Photo by Aaron Ricca.
Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster has been in office a bit more than a week and is ready to shake, shuffle and shoulder MCSO operations.
The 46-year-old is 6-foot-4, 280 pounds. He has a large and in-charge disposition to match. With his 26 years of experience with MCSO, he plans to deliver professional law enforcement services to the county’s 13,461 square miles and 203,000-plus residents.
“I love Mohave County,” Schuster said. “I want to take care of the citizens of Mohave County.”
He’s following a career-long ambition to be sheriff that started in 1989 as a detention officer at the county jail. He retired in June 2015, working temporarily as a pro-tem judge in the Lake Havasu City Consolidated Court. When Sheriff Tom Sheehan stepped down in August of 2014, county supervisors appointed then-Chief Deputy Jim McCabe to sheriff. That’s when Schuster locked his eyes on the prize.
“I felt I was the best person to fill that role,” he said. “I took the position because I wanted to fix what I saw were the major concerns in the department that I could not fix at my level of sergeant before retiring.”
To Schuster, MCSO has, in the past, been a reactionary force. He wants it to be proactive. There are currently 87 sworn personnel positions, with the department about 20 percent under that staffing level. There are currently five deputy candidates going through law enforcement academies and two certified law enforcement officers were hired last week. Schuster still needs help.
“The deputies we have now are very dedicated, they’re doing what they can do, but when you have such a short staffing level…they’re literally running from call to call,” Schuster said. “Once we get our staffing level up and retain them, each year will only get better.”
He addressed issues that continue to pester the department and those that could enhance its capabilities.
Schuster wants the five deputy positions frozen last year back and “will be working diligently with the board of supervisors … to fix it once and for all.”
“Compression is on the top of the list for me,” he said. “It’s been something that has been plaguing this agency for many years now.”
Schuster plans to enhance countywide law enforcement services and needs an adequately trained staff to do so. He said 70 percent of the force has less than two years beat experience.
“That’s why we want to build our force up to where we have those veterans with the experience and the knowledge to quickly resolve matters,” said Schuster. “I’m very confident we’re going to get there.”
“We’re in a rebuilding phase,” he said. “As the sheriff, I have the ability to move the department in the direction I feel it should be going in.”
He’s been settling into his office at MCSO headquarters in Kingman and plans to honor a pledge to be more transparent with the media and the public. He says Trish Carter, the current public information officer, does a fantastic job, but he wants to make as much information available – especially after hours or on weekends – to the media without comprising investigations.
“In law enforcement, there is nothing we do that the public should not be aware of,” he said.
Volunteers and County Relationships
One thing Schuster would like to accomplish in his first term is better utilization of the county’s volunteer forces.
He plans to implement a posse-type program to augment the thinly- stretched sheriff’s department. He commended the county search and rescue crews that have and continue to donate their time and resources.
“Without the volunteer assistance of search and rescue, we would have a tremendously difficult time handling the call volume,” he said.
He’d like to foster better relationships with the public and countywide agencies with the focus on “providing top-notch law enforcement services.”
He’s well aware response times in remote areas of the county aren’t exactly stellar and will work on providing better resources to the sheriff substations and possibly see to it a deputy resides in those areas to minimize response times.
Schuster has been married to his wife and high school sweetheart, Cindy, for 26 years and has two daughters and a son. The family lives in Lake Havasu City and Schuster doesn’t mind the commute – it gives him the opportunity to spend time at the Lake Havasu and Mohave Valley substations.
“Speaking from this day forward as the new sheriff,” Schuster said. “We can only grow and enhance what we’re trying to accomplish.”