Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has launched his own airstrike against the West Nile virus. Starting today, his volunteer posse will take to the skies in helicopters and airplanes to hunt for abandoned algae-ridden backyard pools that are breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying the deadly virus.
Once the green pools are spotted, ground patrol posse members will positively identify the residences and forward the information to the county’s environmental services department.
If the pool is in violation of the county health code, the homeowner can face a misdemeanor charge, which carries up to a $500 fine or 30 days in jail.
No human cases have been reported so far this year, but authorities are bracing for another big season, especially once monsoon storms hit.
In 2004, there were 391 human cases reported in Arizona, and 16 resulted in death, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
"It’s very difficult to rely on people to complain on their neighbors. We want to be proactive," Arpaio said. "We want this to be educational. We want the world to know that the posse is floating around, so you better clean your pools or you’re going to pay the consequences."
John Townsend, the county’s vector control program manager, said a recent flight over the East Valley and Scottsdale was certainly eye-opening.
"I’d notice just hundreds of green swimming pools as I was flying across the Valley," Townsend said.
Often times, citizens will complain about mosquito problems, and it is up to vector control workers to find the source.
"It makes it kind of tough," Townsend said. "A lot of newer neighborhoods don’t have alleyways and they’re hard to get access to, so we have to get a search warrant. We’ve had to do it hundreds of times this year so far."
The volunteers for the sheriff’s air posse, which includes a gyrocopter and Bell helicopter, use their own aircraft and pay for all expenses and fuel.