Our History

From the beginning

“Blessed are the peacekeepers, for they shall be called the children of God.” —Matthew 5:9

The first regional law enforcement effort in Arizona occurred in 1901 when the territorial governor organized the “Arizona Rangers”. This small force made a strong impact on the rustling and smuggling problems of the time but was disbanded in 1909, three years before Arizona achieved statehood.

Arizona’s reputation as the West’s last refuge for hard-bitten desperados was a major reason its admittance to statehood was delayed so long. The proximity to the Mexican border, bad roads, poor communication, and rugged terrain made pursuit and capture of outlaws almost impossible. To make matters worse, rural residents were sometimes hesitant to assist peace officers because many of their neighbors were outlaws, and they didn’t want to incur vengeance.

The hard men who rode the Arizona Territory were products of a lawless, and violent post-Civil War era characterized by range wars, feuds. Apache fighting, and the lust for gold and silver. Today they and their deeds have slipped from reality into the realm of romance. Trail dust has settled and the false-front saloons are gone, but their stories linger on and are deeply ingrained in our culture.

The types of men hired to keep the peace were as varied as the rest of the wide gamut of frontier society. Jeff Milton was the son of a Florida governor; Wyatt Earp was a restless entrepreneur whose skill with a six-shooter and nerves of steel made him a formidable adversary; Jim Roberts earned his reputation as a fearless gunfighter. Entire libraries may be stocked with the dime novels, paperbacks and western adventure stories involving Arizona outlaws and the men who devoted their lives to putting those outlaws behind bars or on the gallows. It seems certain that Arizona’s lurid reputation as a haven for the lawless element delayed the achieving of statehood.

Even before Arizona was granted statehood, counties were being established such as Maricopa County, established in 1871. Arizona was still a “territory” back then and, as such, had a territorial legislature which oversaw the creation of counties and their governments.

Local law enforcement began in Phoenix with the fist county election in 1871. Tom Barnum was elected the first sheriff of Maricopa County. A shootout between two other candidates for the office, resulted in one’s death and other withdrawing from the race.

As the years went by, of course, more governmental positions were added, more counties came into being and eventually on February 14, 1912, Arizona was named the 48th state in the United States. The state constitution then and now maintains that certain governmental positions are to be elected by the people rather than appointed by a governing board. One of those elected positions is the Office of Sheriff. There are 15 county Sheriffs in Arizona today. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was established in 1871 when a fifth county was carved out of the territory’s original four.

In territorial days, justice was swift and certain. Though for many years the sheriff had only temporary deputies and jailers, lawbreakers were eagerly pursued by the sheriff’s posse to administer justice. In the first decade of the county’s existence, there were six lynching’s and one legal execution. Handcuffs and leg irons back then were attached to river rocks or a nearby tree – either served well as an adequate jail site.

– We have been serving law enforcement in Arizona since 1994

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Northern Arizona Law Enforcement Association,
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We are a 501(c)(5) non-profit public service organization whose mission is to represent the collective interest of our member associations in matters involving legal perspectives, compensation, benefits, and retirement security.
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