After months of allegations and controversy in a hotly contested race, Pinal County has elected a new sheriff.
Republican candidate Paul Babeu topped incumbent Sheriff Chris Vasquez, a Democrat, in an early lead Tuesday during the general election and never looked back.
Following his victory, Babeu says the entire sheriff's office will see an extensive overhaul in January, where many positions could face reassignment after recent budget cutbacks. These changes will help the county improve service and maintain public safety without sacrificing speed and efficiency, he said.
"I will likely ask for all 'at-will' employees to resign and if they would like, I would like them to submit an application to work with me," Babeu said.
At-will employees include public information officers, chief deputies, patrol commanders, jail commanders and several other subordinate jail positions in the department. He said that no final decisions will be made for these positions without an internal and independent audit.
He believes his future at-will team will include mostly sworn officers, a qualification requirement that targets the positions in the civilian public information department.
Before whittling down portions of his staff, Babeu said he will scrap the entire photo enforcement program and replace the cameras with live deputies.
"Cameras are doing the work of a government agent," Babeu said, adding that it is unacceptable to allow a private company to make money from law enforcement.
To replace the county money lost with the loss of these machines, Babeu plans to plant more patrol deputies to hand out citations, which rake in similar amounts of funds, if not more, he said. This means the department will need to hire more deputies, a problem Vasquez has faced in the budget for years.
Babeu said he will "aggressively" seek grants from the Board of Supervisors for more deputy positions and to pay for more computers in sheriff's office vehicles, a task he says Vasquez was not able to achieve. Homeland Security grants will most likely pay for the rest of the computer upgrades, he said.
"They are already phasing in those computers, but it's far too late (to be effective)," he said.
While he knows that more deputies are required in the growing county, Babeu says he will need far less than the 175 officers Vasquez has previously requested from the board. He believes computers will replace the need for several positions because only one officer, rather than several, will be "fielded" to a particular call. By achieving this goal, response times will drop because more deputies will be organized and available for other calls, he says.
After reorganizing his deputies on the street, Babeu says he will apply tougher standards to "high-paid" staffers who have received special treatment in what he calls Vasquez's "good old boy" network. The same standards for these employees will "not apply with me," he says. To allow for fair promotions, a higher-paid position will be held to an equally higher standard, a practice he says the current administration has ignored.
Mike Reardon, a sheriff's detective and a founder of the Pinal County Deputies Association, says many important decisions happen behind closed doors in the department.
Reardon was voted out of the association when he said board members violated bylaws, saying he placed "personal agenda above the union," according to a Tribune report.
He predicted that Babeu would find money funneled into several undesirable locations.
"Money comes into the department, and it goes (numerous) places," Reardon said. "Some of those are necessary, and some are not. (Babeu is) going to see that some things are unnecessary."