Paul Babeu, the Republican candidate for Pinal County sheriff, brings backgrounds in both politics and law enforcement to his bid for the position that requires the skills in both.
His first elected office was as a city councilman in a small Massachusetts town at the age of 18.
As a Chandler police officer, Babeu became president of the agency's union, the Chandler Law Enforcement Agency.
Babeu is hoping to oust incumbent Sheriff Chris Vasquez, claiming that the Democrat who was appointed in 2005 cannot provide the modern changes that the county desperately needs.
Babeu hopes to improve response times by placing a computer inside each deputy vehicle, a task he says the current administration has ignored.
He also wants to tackle what he calls an unfair system of promotions and demotions in the office where Babeu says several deputies have been attacked for speaking out against the department or Vasquez himself.
Babeu also believes deputies have had to make do with worn-out equipment and outdated first-aid training, claiming some deputies wear body armor that is 20 years old and have not received updated first-aid training for years. Since deputies are often the first to respond to emergency situations, these skills are mandatory and will be updated if he receives the nomination, he says.
Vasquez has repeatedly claimed that Babeu, 39, does not have the experience in law enforcement and in Pinal County to fulfill the position. Babeu served less than three years as an active Chandler officer, but left for a yearlong tour in Iraq as part of a National Guard unit while employed with the department. After returning to Arizona, Babeu served as a commander with the National Guard for more than a year.
Babeu's political life began in North Adams, Mass., a town with a population of about 16,000. After the City Council gave itself a pay raise that he and the community opposed, Babeu sought to overturn it by launching a petition drive to put the issue to voters, he said.
"I thought that was not OK, and I went there and told them that," Babeu said. "They sort of laughed me off, and so I went out and started my initial petition to put that issue on the ballot."
Babeu said the council eventually backed off and gave themselves a much smaller pay raise. By then embroiled in local politics, Babeu was elected to the council in 1987 at the age of 18, becoming the youngest council member in the town's history.
Later, he became a county commissioner and gained fame by shutting off the air conditioning for a court building that was behind on its rent. After failing to gain a position in the state Senate, Babeu ran for mayor twice and lost twice, the second time in 2001.
AT A CROSSROADS
The following year, Babeu went public with allegations that as a child he had been sexually molested by a Catholic priest. Several other victims soon came forward and began a lawsuit against the priest. Babeu also filed a lawsuit in early 2000, which was settled out of court.
"It was part of my healing and a part of me helping others," he said. "I knew what they were going through."
It was here that Babeu entered a "crossroads" - he wanted to move away from North Adams to a warmer climate and a city with a growing economy. After visiting his parents in Pinal County a year earlier, Babeu chose to move and work as a police officer in Chandler.
According to city records, Babeu became a Chandler cadet in December 2002. Although Babeu served in the military while in Massachusetts, he had never served in a police force.
During his employment with Chandler, Babeu received two lifesaving medals and a commendation from police Chief Sherry Kiyler for conducting an educational law enforcement presentation to a group of emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children at the Southwest Education Center.
"He was an outgoing person who approached our business in a personal matter," Kiyler said of Babeu.
In April 2005, Babeu left the department for a yearlong tour in Iraq with the National Guard followed by a 18-month leadership position for a team of 700 National Guard soldiers helping to secure the Arizona border.
As a commander of the border unit in Task Force Yuma, Babeu oversaw troops that were the "eyes and ears" of the U.S. Border Patrol. Babeu told his supervisors that he would like to serve for a year, but they soon asked if Babeu could stay for six more months, he said. He obliged, but soon realized he missed working as a Chandler police officer.
"I initially committed to one year, and that was my commitment," Babeu said. "At that time, I was like 'Thank you very much, I appreciate the opportunity, I'm going back to be a cop in Chandler.' "
While he served in the military, Babeu was vice president of the Chandler Law Enforcement Agency. He was promoted to president while serving in Iraq and was re-elected in an uncontested vote for president after he returned to the department in 2007.
"I wanted to serve on the board. I didn't necessarily want to remain as president because of the time commitment." Babeu said. "The board and my peers wanted me to stay (as president)."
While president, Babeu negotiated a 9.21 percent pay and benefit package raise for people in the police department. He remained with the department until July this year, more than six months after he announced his run for sheriff of Pinal County. Babeu is currently on an unpaid leave of absence with approval from the police chief and city manager, he said.
'MAN OF INTEGRITY'
Lt. Steve Henry, a Chandler patrol officer who served with Babeu next to his beat, described Babeu as "a man of integrity."
"You hear talk and rhetoric of not enough street experience," Henry said of Babeu. "The sheriff is much like a CEO of an organization. They have to be political."
Babeu's campaign placed "End Photo Radar" banners to election signs in the weeks leading up to the election. The additions come to light after Babeu was accused of lying on a photo radar ticket in which he marked "unknown" for a woman driving his vehicle in 2007. He admits the woman was his sister-in-law, but says he could not tell from a grainy picture upon receiving the initial ticket.
"The purpose of (photo radar) is to generate money for the government," he said. "It has not had an impact in reducing traffic accidents."