SUN CITY, AZ - Three Maricopa County sheriff's volunteer posses that temporarily suspended operations are back at work Thursday after officials say they have resolved a question over who will provide insurance coverage for posse-owned vehicles.
The sheriff's office changed its policy in mid-2012 to require posses to provide their own car insurance coverage, but that policy wasn't carried out, and posse volunteers were told that they had until mid-April to get private coverage.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a county official now say posse vehicles will be covered under by the county's self-insurance pool.
"The posse vehicles are covered as long as the vehicles or the equipment are used for posse operations," said Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman, who stood beside Arpaio at a news conference Thursday.
Still, it's unclear who was providing insurance coverage for the vehicles from the time the posse insurance rules were changed in 2012 until recently.
"If something did happen, I feel very comfortable that we would have been covered (by the county) anyway," Arpaio said.
Arpaio said the question of liability was triggered by a November car crash involving a posse member.
The sheriff's office acknowledged that it made an error earlier this week in saying that the need to get private insurance was prompted by a policy change from county officials. The sheriff's office now says it was responsible for the change.
Arpaio announced the resolution of the liability question at the Sun City Posse headquarters. Dozens of posse members dressed in beige uniforms stood behind the sheriff as he spoke.
The volunteers cheered when Arpaio mentioned that they pay their own expenses for policing their community. Some volunteers scoffed loudly when reporters posed critical questions about the insurance issue and about an inmate who sheriff's officials say was killed by another inmate in one of Arpaio's jails.
Posses are one of the signatures of Arpaio's 21-year tenure as sheriff.
The approximately 3,000 unpaid civilian volunteers assist sheriff's deputies in a variety of duties, including maintaining security at crime scenes, bringing people who were arrested by deputies to jail, and providing security at malls during the holiday season.
Some posses provide search-and-research operations for hikers lost in the wilderness, while another posse has divers who search for bodies and evidence in lakes. Arpaio's cold-case posse conducted an examination into the authenticity of President Barack Obama's birth certificate.
Members wear uniforms and can get authorized to carry a gun after training, though only a portion of them actually carry guns. They can make arrests only at the direction of a deputy sheriff. Posse operations generally don't receive taxpayer money and instead are funded through contributions and, in some cases, dues paid by posse members.
Posses are responsible for buying their own vehicles.