PHOENIX — The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is looking to use Arizona National Guard members to help fill major staffing shortages and operate the jail system.
The sheriff's office sent a request for 135 National Guard personnel last week but rescinded the request Thursday.
MCSO leadership told ABC15 the request was a draft copy sent accidentally, without proper sign-off from Sheriff Penzone.
"An exploratory committee was put together to look throughout the organization at which areas we could augment existing personnel," said Deputy Chief Frank McWilliams. "That list was compiled and rather come through the entire chain of command to be reviewed, it was inadvertently sent directly to the National Guard for submission."
Even though it was rescinded temporarily, the document reveals just how dire the staffing shortage is across the agency.
The sheriff’s office currently has over 775 vacant positions.
In the past 19 months, the agency went from 89% staffed to 80%.
As of October 29, 2021, the agency has 441 vacant detention officer positions, 238 vacant civilian positions, and 98 sworn deputy positions.
In April, Governor Doug Ducey offered the National Guard to help local law enforcement and sheriffs with border and trafficking issues.
The Sheriff's Office in Maricopa County, which does not border Mexico, listed '2021 Statewide Migrant Caravan' under the incident section of the 'Resource Request.'
There is absolutely no connection to the details of their request and the ongoing surge of migrants arriving south of the U.S. border.
Part of the now-rescinded request reads:
"MCSO has reached critical staffing levels across multiple departments. Multiple jails are reaching maximum capacity with manpower shortages and a deficit in overtime funding causing the Sheriff’s Office to use badged field personnel to fill vacancies and help with the backlog in numerous departments. Due to this situation, MCSO is requesting National Guard Members to assist with the most critical vacant positions. All NG Members will be fully trained with both a 40-hour formal class and on the job training by MCSO staff for all positions."
"If we were to put one or two bodies into a jail, the immediate impact is that detention officer is not wearing multiple hats," said Deputy Chief McWilliams. "We're taking some of the workload off that individual and transitioning it to somebody who's going to be working behind the scenes -- processing paperwork and doing things like that."
"I think it's just a sign of desperation, and just how bad things are over there. You know, it clearly is not a feasible solution," said Joe Clure, Executive Director of the Arizona Police Association.
Clure believes most people are leaving the profession due to a lack of respect and appreciation from society. He also says burnout is also a factor, as well as the ongoing Department of Justice oversight.
"It's a difficult place to recruit to because of that. [The DOJ has] been there for how many years now? That creates an unpleasant work environment for the guys, if you talk to them. You get the least little complaint, and you're under internal investigation for sometimes years," said Clure.
Clure also acknowledges MCSO is far from the only Arizona, or U.S. law enforcement agency, struggling to recruit candidates. Phoenix PD has started recruiting aggressively out of state and offering $7,500 bonuses.
"It's across the board...you just can't find people to come and do this job," said Clure.
Deputy Chief McWilliams knows the challenges MCSO faces in the months ahead, but he is confident things will improve.
"I think we’re going to see relief," said McWilliams.
It is unclear how long National Guard personnel would be asked to help backfill and stopgap the staffing shortage. Deputy Chief McWilliams says it is too early to say. The guard members would be paid by the state, not the county, and their
transfer would have to be approved by the governor and National Guard.
MCSO leadership indicated they will likely re-submit a request in the coming weeks.
"Do you expect National Guards [members] to be assisting with MCSO by the end of the year?" asked Zach Crenshaw."Oh absolutely, and they’re already assisting, some with Aviation Search & Rescue," replied Chief McWilliams, referring to the one guard member per shift, which was approved in May.
If you are interested in joining MCSO, you can learn more and apply here.