A group of Guadalupe residents began planning for a future without the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office on Sunday.
About 90 people gathered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church to discuss law enforcement options for the town including creating its own police force or continuing its contract with the sheriff's office.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio threatened to pull out of Guadalupe in 180 days when town officials complained about saturation sweeps by deputies in the one-square-mile town last month. The two-day enforcement action was the latest in a string of crackdowns around the county intended to apprehend illegal immigrants.
Meeting organizers asked residents to consider six options for law enforcement in the town of 5,500 people.
The proposed alternates:
Create a municipal department of public safety to oversee the existing municipal fire department and any new contracted police service from Phoenix, Tempe, another city or American Indian tribe.
Create a department of public safety to oversee both contracted police and fire service.
Create a municipal police department separate from the fire department.
Hire a town police chief and hire a private police force.
Expand the duties of firefighters to include police work.
Renegotiate a new contract with the sheriff's office.
Residents at the meeting roundly booed the final option.
"Do we need to talk about No. 6?" asked Santino Bernasconi, an official with the advocacy organization United Guadalupe.
"No!" replied most attending.
The group also broke into discussion groups to rank its criteria for a future law enforcement agency. United Guadalupe will present its findings to members of the Town Council in coming days, Bernasconi said.
Arpaio said Sunday when contacted by the Tribune that Guadalupe officials can study law enforcement options all they want. "If they can find somebody else, that's great," he said.
His position remains unchanged, he said. "I'm not going to stay in any city where they tell me what laws to enforce and not to enforce," he said.
Even if the town and sheriff's office discontinue their agreement for regular police service, deputies still would have authority to conduct law enforcement activities, including illegal immigration crackdowns in Guadalupe, because the sheriff's office has jurisdiction across the entire county, Arpaio said.
He added that he has asked the mayor to write him an official letter stating the Town Council's intention.
The town currently pays the sheriff's office $1.2 million a year to provide police service, plus $56,000 to house jail inmates arrested in the town.
After Sunday's meeting, Mayor Rebecca Jimenez said she welcomed public discussion about law enforcement in the town.
"This is great any time the community gets together to think about ideas for their own safety," she said.
The long-term goal is to create a separate police department, she said. However, Guadalupe probably will need to contract with a larger city for police service until then.
"The short-term goal is to get away from Arpaio," she said.
Overall, the sheriff's office has slow response times, plus the saturation patrols appeared to target anyone who looked Hispanic, Jimenez said.
Law enforcement needs to be improved in the town, said Guadalupe resident Abelina Banda. During the past year, someone shot out a window in her home and twice painted graffiti on her fence.
"I want to be home and I want to feel safe, but in fact, I don't. I would love to have somebody who could respond right away," she said.
Banda said she was uncertain which option the town should pursue. She also noted that she does not believe sheriff's deputies engaged in racial profiling.
Five members of the Town Council were introduced during the two-hour meeting.
The public meeting veered into questionable legal status when United Guadalupe leaders escorted about a dozen reporters from several news organizations out of the church when the breakout discussions began.
Considering a quorum of the Town Council was present to discuss city issues, the meeting might have violated the state's Open Meetings Law.
Reporters with the Tribune and KPNX-TV (Channel 12) later re-entered the meeting and were not asked to leave a second time.