A bill giving counties power to take control of corrupt police departments and primarily aimed at the polygamist enclave of Colorado City passed the Arizona House by an overwhelming majority Thursday.
House Bill 2648, which still needs a Senate vote, would allow county supervisors to appoint a neutral, third-party administrator to take over a police department determined by the state’s law-enforcement advisory board to have systemic misconduct or mismanagement.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has pushed for the measure as part of his attempts to reduce the power of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which controls the town government of Colorado City.
Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, primary sponsor of the bill, said she introduced the measure to “give the public an option when there’s been a violation of their trust and confidence from those who have taken an oath to serve and protect.”
Authorities in Arizona and Utah have struggled for decades to deal with underage marriages, fraud, banishment of young males and other FLDS practices.
But lawmakers from Mohave County say that whatever corruption may have occurred in Colorado City has been eradicated in the absence of imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.
“I would challenge someone to give me documentation to suggest Colorado City is a rogue department and we have to create an entire system of police oversight,” said Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman. “There is none. It’s all built on hearsay and conjecture by the attorney’s office, who promulgated last year’s bill.”
Last year, Horne asked state lawmakers to pass legislation voiding the Colorado City marshal’s authority while providing funds for sheriff’s deputies to patrol the community. The measure failed, in part, because Mohave County lawmakers opposed it. Horne provided $420,000 from his budget to pay for sheriff’s patrols.
To meet the threshhold for the current bill, a police department has to have a certain percentage of its force stripped of police certifications in a five-year period; the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board has to determine that gross misconduct occurred; and a supermajority of county supervisors must agree with the policing board’s recommendation.
“If you’re cleaning up the department, you have nothing to worry about,” Ugenti said, adding that if what Mohave County lawmakers say is true about Colorado City, “no one is going to find a systemic issue, and this process will not be triggered.”
Republic reporter Dennis Wagner contributed to this article.