Three candidates are vying for the post of Pima County sheriff, a position that oversees 1,500 employees and a budget of nearly $120 million.
Incumbent Democrat Sheriff Clarence Dupnik didn't plan on a career in law enforcement.
"I was going to the University of Arizona and ran out of money, and the cops were hiring. I didn't want to be a cop. I wanted to play baseball … but after a few years I fell in love with it," he said. More than half a century later, he's still on the job.
After retiring from the Tucson Police Department, he was elected Pima County sheriff in 1980.
Republican challenger Mark Napier always knew he wanted to be a lawman.
"That's all I ever thought of doing. That's all I ever dreamed of doing," he said of his childhood aspiration.
Napier began his career in law enforcement as a SWAT training officer in Iowa before joining TPD in 1987.
After retiring 21 years later with the rank of captain, Napier spent a year with the Glendale Police Department as assistant director before joining the University of Arizona Parking & Transportation Services department as associate director of operations. He also is a lead facilitator for Boston University's online criminal justice program.
The race also includes Green Party candidate Dave Croteau, a native Tucsonan and a founder of the annual Nam Jam concert to benefit military veterans.
This is the second time Croteau has taken on Dupnik. In 2000 he got 16 percent of the vote for sheriff.
He was also a write-in candidate for mayor in 1999. He ran again for mayor in 2007, picking up 28 percent of the vote, when no Democrat was willing to challenge Republican incumbent Bob Walkup.
But his overriding political cause over the years has been legalization of marijuana.
Dupnik prides himself on cleaning up corruption that once existed in the department and improving community relations through social media, online crime mapping and staff accountability.
"Our department is more transparent than any law enforcement agency I've ever met," he said. "We believe the public has the right to know what's going on. We have a reputation for being open. We have a reputation for being candid."
In recent years, the economy has forced the department to cut programs to ensure the deputies are meeting their primary responsibility of responding to emergency calls. For the last two fiscal years, the department has had a balanced budget, Dupnik said.
"Our budget is one that is very, very difficult to control because of the jail - we don't have any control over the population or very labor-intensive events like the fires we had on Mount Lemmon that went on for months," he said.
Once the economy improves, Dupnik wants to implement an wireless integrated network that will allow 30 public-safety agencies to better coordinate activities during major disasters and incidents. He also wants to expand the department's Directed Patrol Program, in which deputies are assigned specifically to identify serial criminals, to include officers from all agencies in the county.
"We do that on a very small scale now, and it works effectively. If we could do that on a large scale, we could have dramatic impact on crime, especially violent crime," he said.
During his nearly 30 years in law enforcement, Napier has learned "communication is key" to his successes engaging the community in the fight against crime
While working for TPD on the south side, he made sure all of the neighborhood association presidents in his sector had his cellphone number, and he encouraged them to call if they had questions about law enforcement issues specific to their neighborhoods. He made it his mission to attend at least one meeting a year for each south-side association.
Speaking at a recent candidates forum, Napier said: "The community is the backbone of law enforcement. What we need to do is engage you as stakeholders in the process. We need you to be our eyes and ears. I don't know what your crime problems are. You do. The deputies cannot always see everything and be everywhere. You are our support base. You are our customers.
"It's time for new leadership. It's time for a visible sheriff. I have a definite plan for where I want to take us next year, two years from now, four years from now."
Included in those plans are giving the public direct access to the sheriff's office via an "Ask the Sheriff" button on the county website that would send an email directly to Napier, who promises to answer all questions. He also wants to conduct Web-based surveys within the department and in the community to evaluate satisfaction and solicit suggestions for creating a more effective department and develop county-specific strategies to fight crime.
Croteau, a supporter of the Occupy Tucson movement, has firsthand experience interacting with local law enforcement and the legal system.
He was cited several times late last year for remaining in a city park after hours during his participation in the Occupy Tucson.
More recently he unsuccessfully represented himself in Tucson City Court on charges of assault, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct stemming from a July protest at a military recruiting office. He is a member of Veterans for Peace and considers himself a "nonviolent militant." He denies he assaulted anyone and plans to appeal.
A house painter specializing in reconstructing historic homes, Croteau says he has experience serving on citizens advisory boards and is a proponent of geographic policing, which assigns officers and deputies to defined geographic areas or beats to give them the ability to build relationships with residents.
His top priorities include transforming law enforcement into a peacekeeping power, limiting the use of excessive force by SWAT team officers when serving search warrants and putting a moratorium on home foreclosures and evictions until original deeds and documents are reviewed by the sheriff's office.
Reporter Veronica M. Cruz contributed to this article. Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at email@example.com or at 573-4191.