PHOENIX - A northwest Arizona lawmaker says a legislative bid to disband the Colorado City police department is "just a persecution effort" because the community residents practice polygamy.
The legislation would allow a county sheriff's department to assume control of any local police department where at least half of the officers lost their required certification in any five-year period.
While HB 2648 does not specify any police agency, Attorney General Tom Horne has previously said the provision eliminates the Colorado City Marshal's Office, as the police department in the polygamous community on the Arizona-Utah border is called.
Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, who is pushing the measure, said having half of any department's officers declared no longer qualified shows there is a systemic problem within the agency. That, she said, makes state intervention appropriate.
But Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, told her colleagues they should butt out.
"None of the people involved with this bill has ever set foot in Colorado City, has talked to the people in Colorado City, has done any connection with what is going on," she said.
A House vote on the measure could come as early as today.
Horne says many Colorado City police officers are followers of Warren Jeffs who, despite being imprisoned for in Texas for having sex with underage girls, is considered the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
More than half have had their certification revoked by the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board, some for misconduct with minors and others after declaring their loyalty to Jeffs trumps state law.
"There are problems," Goodale conceded. But she said this is the wrong approach.
She said Colorado City formed its own police department after the Mohave County Sheriff's Department, which had been patrolling the area, expressed little interest in providing coverage and "abandoned Colorado City."
"This is just a persecution effort because they're a polygamous community," Goodale said. "People don't like polygamy."
But Goodale pointed out that while the Arizona Constitution bars polygamy, it technically is not illegal: There is no state law making plural marriages a crime, at least among adults, as long as not more than one is registered with the state.
Ugenti, however, said that's not the issue.
"I really don't care how you live your personal life," she said. "I don't care what your religion is; I don't care what you believe in; I don't care what you do for an occupation."
But she said the officers took an oath "to uphold the laws and enforce it equally," something that is not happening.
Horne backed that contention, saying the Marshal's Office enforces the law based on whether someone is considered in good standing within the religion, and simply getting rid of bad officers won't solve the problem.
"It's a systemic problem," he said. "Every time we decertify somebody, a clone takes his place, and so the problem persists."