Schuster: Next sheriff must prioritize morale, budget
Clarification: In the original version of this story, Mohave County Sheriff's candidate Doug Schuster was quoted as saying leadership problems at the department extend from the sheriff down to sergeants. He called Thursday to say his intent was to target Sheriff Jim McCabe and his top assistants, not sergeants.
Editor's note: This is the third in an occasional series on candidates for Mohave County sheriff.
KINGMAN - Doug Schuster gets right to the point when asked what motivated him to run for Mohave County Sheriff.
"This is why I'm running," he said. "The Mohave County Sheriff's Office is broken and it's not because of the department, it's because of leadership."
Schuster said MCSO leadership, from Sheriff Jim McCabe down to sergeants, is at fault for allowing a system of promotions that is based on "cronyism and the good old boys network."
"The lack of real leadership is the direct result of morale issues that are currently plaguing the department," he said. "Employees need to know they are appreciated and that their work ethic is not minimized."
Schuster, who retired last May, devised a plan he would implement if elected, all designed to do two things: Make the sheriff's office more transparent and responsive to the citizens of the county, and change the culture of the office to ensure deputies stick around long enough to become valuable to the department and the county.
First, Schuster would have to solve what he calls an "epidemic of problems" regarding employee retention - the sheriff's office has seen a 117 percent turnover rate over the past eight years. The problems have as much to do with money as leadership.
"We currently pay our staff less than any agency in Mohave County," he said. "On top of that, they have poor working conditions and poor leadership and the deputies become somewhat ineffective."
Schuster, who is married and has three children, said he would bring a mindset of "support and encouragement and backing them up. If cops are doing a good job, they need to be aware of that," he said. "The crux of the problem is the dedicated officers who have stayed are overworked, and that directly results in a lower level of service provided to the citizens of Mohave County."
Retention is the first element of Schuster's plan and the budget is a close second. He said the sheriff's $22 million annual budget should be prioritized based on its most pressing need. Money, he said, could and should be moved around. Grant funding would be pursued with vigor, he said, along with economic programs.
If the pay gap is still too far apart after those efforts are made, Schuster said he would support supervisors raising the sales tax a quarter cent, a suggestion McCabe has said would have to be considered during this year's budget talks. Schuster said he's generally not a supporter of tax levies of any kind, except as a "last measure."
The need for transparency and improved media relations are two more bullet points.
"Transparency is critical," Schuster said. "We must improve our relationship with the citizens and the media. There's a strong disconnect between the citizens and deputies and we see it on a national level."
He said getting rid of what he calls the "good old boy network" would go a long way in ensuring deputies are promoted based on how well they do the job and not on "who they know." Bringing this type of transparency to the office would go a long way in boosting morale, he said.
Schuster would also lift a longtime rule that prohibits deputies from speaking to the media in another attempt to bring more transparency to the department.
"These are little things that can be fixed right now," he said, snapping his fingers. "These things do not cost money."
Schuster said he would create a strong volunteer force that would be used to assist the agency.
"There are great men and women in Mohave County who want to be involved, but they've been turned away time and time again."
Schuster said volunteers, who would perform a number of tasks that don't directly involve acting as deputies, would be properly vetted and be clearly guided by a written policy. "Their assistance would be invaluable," he said.
Improving the sheriff's office's relationship with neighboring agencies is another priority, particularly when it comes to communication between agencies.
"We live in a day and age where information is easy to relay and this should be done so readily between agencies."
This in turn would help Schuster do something else: Bring a hardline approach to crime.
"There were more than 13,500 crimes committed in Mohave County in Fiscal Year 2014. This equates to one crime every 40 minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is unacceptable to me."
Schuster said he believes people who violate the law should be prosecuted and held accountable, and that includes those who might receive favoritism. "I'm talking about every county, state and federal employee," he said.
So why should voters support Schuster?
"I'm the only candidate who has spent his lifetime career at the Mohave County Sheriff's Office," he said. "I'm the only candidate who understands the internal workings of the agency better than anyone. I'm highly decorated and a veteran deputy who cares deeply about the citizens of Mohave County."