Sheriff Mark Lamb
There’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is Mark Lamb
Interview by Bea Lueck – Spring 2017
After beating out democratic opponent Kaye Dickson in November’s election, Sheriff Lamb follows outspoken former Sheriff Paul Babeu as the next top cop to lead the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. Facing a tight budget, continued border-related crime and what he says are some relationships in need of repair, Sheriff Lamb believes he has what it takes to help Pinal County as it approaches one of its most promising years for economic development. We caught up with him to learn more his past and his plans for OUR future.
GC LIVING: We are here with Sheriff Mark Lamb. Congratulations on your new appointment.
SHERIFF LAMB: Thank you.
GC LIVING: So, let’s get to know who you are. How did you end up in Pinal County and where did you grow up? What were you like as a little boy? Let’s just start at the very beginning.
SHERIFF LAMB: (Laughs) I was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii. My dad was a graduate of Thunderbird Business College (Thunderbird School of Global Management) and we had been living there for a long time. He actually went there originally and was a potato farmer in Puako on the Big Island. But our business primarily was scrap metal, so as a kid, I spent a lot of time doing scrap metal.
Around the time I was about 11, we moved to the Philippines for a year. And then we moved back to Arizona, which is where my dad was from – actually Chandler. So, I went to junior high and high school in Chandler. I’d like to say I’ve always been a pleasant person. I’ve always been a pleasant boy. I look at the bright side of things, the positive side of things.
GC LIVING: Which high school did you graduate from in Chandler?
SHERIFF LAMB: Chandler High School
GC LIVING: So are you an only child, or do you have siblings?
SHERIFF LAMB: I’m actually the youngest of four children. I have two older brothers and a sister.
GC LIVING: So what were you like as a little boy? Were you a good student? Were you an athlete?
SHERIFF LAMB: I played baseball my whole life. I actually went to Dixie College (now Dixie State University) and played a little college baseball after high school.
GC LIVING: What position?
SHERIFF LAMB: I’m a center fielder. But, having played all my life, I could probably play most positions. I enjoyed sports. I was a good student. I graduated with honors. My GPA was somewhere in the three-point-something range. I don’t remember. That was a long time ago.
GC LIVING: So you went to Dixie College (now Dixie State University) and then?
SHERIFF LAMB: I went to college initially at Dixie State College at the time it was just Dixie College in St. George, Utah. Then I started the mission for my church in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And after my mission I came back; I did a little bit more college at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. And then I just kind of got off into the business world and started owning my own businesses.
GC LIVING: Did you learn Spanish while in Buenos Aires? Are you fluent? And how does that dialect differ from the Mexican dialect spoken in Arizona?
SHERIFF LAMB: Yes, I learned Spanish in Argentina and I am fluent. The Spanish in Argentina is “Castellano”. The accent and some of the words and sayings are different. It’s a lot like English here in America compared to English in England.
GC LIVING: So you were a young child in Hawaii, then moved to the Philippines, then moved to Arizona. Do you miss Hawaii, as far as a green island versus being in the middle of the desert?
SHERIFF LAMB: My family, when I was in high school, moved to Panama, Central America. It’s very similar to what we were used to in Hawaii – very green and tropical – and so that kind of filled that void. I still have a brother who lives in Panama. My dad has since passed away and is buried in Panama. We try to go back as much as we can, but obviously we’ve been a little busy and haven’t been there for a couple years.
GC LIVING: So there are two things that I found on your campaign website, and what you’ve just said, that are very important to you – your faith and your family.
SHERIFF LAMB: That’s absolutely correct. I’m a big believer. I’m a very religious person, so God and my faith are extremely important to me. And my family is equally important. I have five kids. My wife Janel and I have been married now for 23 years and we don’t plan on changing that anytime soon.
GC LIVING: (Laughs)
SHERIFF LAMB: My oldest son Cade is 20 years old and serving a mission for our church in Boise, Idaho. My daughter, Sadie, is 18 and attending school at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher. And I have three boys – ages 16, 14, and 13 – who are still at home.
GC LIVING: Which means your daughter is Daddy’s little girl and spoiled? (Laughs)
SHERIFF LAMB: She is. That’s correct.
GC LIVING: So obviously you’re very busy as Pinal County Sheriff. What do you do in your free time to relax and unwind?
SHERIFF LAMB: There’s not a lot of that right now. But Sundays are very nice. Sunday is a little bit of football. But I am a huge MMA fan. I love the UFC. So, those are kind of my little getaways here and there, to be able to put the work aside and focus on something different than work. But I’m a little bit of a workaholic right now, so a lot of my time is work right now.
GC LIVING: You’re a big guy. Did you ever actually do any MMA or karate, or anything?
SHERIFF LAMB: Never actually in an actual bout, but yes. We’ve trained a lot. We’ve done sparring and then, obviously, it kind of coincides with this job. You want to make sure that you are at your peak physical fitness. You want to make sure that you’re strong and that you have the skill set to protect yourself and to protect others, because that’s what we’re required to do as police officers.
GC LIVING: Earlier you mentioned you’re a business owner. Tell me about your business and do you still operate it, or is it kind of on hiatus now that you’re in office?
SHERIFF LAMB: Great question. I’ve had different businesses throughout the years. Most recently after I left Salt River Police Department and came to Pinal County, I started a pest control business to offset the salary difference. I had that business all the way through the campaign. I did sell a majority of it, so it’s a small role that I play in that business. I also had a solar company that is on hiatus. We’re deciding whether we will keep that business going or not.
GC LIVING: Where did you start your law enforcement career?
SHERIFF LAMB: I started at the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community at the Salt River Police Department back in 2006.
GC LIVING: How did you end up choosing a career in law enforcement?
SHERIFF LAMB: One of my neighbors, and my really good friend, was working there. I owned my own business at the time and he would see me come home and we would talk all the time. Then one day, he asked me if I was interested in doing a ride-along. And honestly I really hadn’t thought a lot about it. And I went on a ride-along, and that one ride-along was all it took. I was hooked.
GC LIVING: So he also worked for the Salt River Police Department?
SHERIFF LAMB: Yes. He has since moved on to a different agency. But yeah, that’s how I got into it.
GC LIVING: What departments have you been with during your law enforcement career?
SHERIFF LAMB: I’ve been with the Salt River Police Department and I’ve been with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office.
GC LIVING: When did you join Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, prior to becoming the Sheriff that is?
SHERIFF LAMB: In 2011 while I was still on the gang unit at the Salt River Police Department. I told the guys there, “You know what? I’m going to run for Sheriff of Pinal County.” I could see that Sheriff Babeu was looking to run for Congress or maybe even governor. So I saw something I wanted to be part of in this community. I already lived in Pinal County, so I put in my application to come out here to Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. I actually didn’t get hired until 2012, at which time I came out here and began working in Pinal County.
GC LIVING: So you were a patrol deputy at that time?
SHERIFF LAMB: Correct.
GC LIVING: And how long were you in that position before you started campaigning for the head position?
SHERIFF LAMB: I was there a little over a year as a patrol deputy and then I took a reserve position and focused more on my business. Pinal County has a resign-to-run policy regarding elected positions. I knew that at some point that was going to happen, so I took that opportunity to resign in November 2014, so that I could focus on making enough money to be able to run a campaign.
GC LIVING: OK, so you held different positions within the two departments. What did you like best, and why?
SHERIFF LAMB: Hands down it was being a gang drug detective. I really enjoyed that job. The results were very measurable, especially where I was working within the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. It was good to see your work and how it affected that community.
GC LIVING: What are you most proud of in your career so far?
SHERIFF LAMB: Obviously I’m most proud of this achievement, of becoming the sheriff. I love it. I love the opportunity to serve the people.
GC LIVING: Your campaign website listed a number of awards that you had received while you were with Salt River Police Department. Tell us about them.
SHERIFF LAMB: I received the Rookie of the Year, Officer of the Year and Detective of the Year. The one I am most proud to have received is the Award of Excellence from the Arizona Gang Investigators Association. I worked hand-in-hand with another detective, actually the same detective who got me into this profession. I worked with him while he was at Mesa Police Department and we worked with the Department of Public Safety and a few other federal agencies and different surrounding agencies. We did a federal RICO case and we actually were able to really disrupt and dismantle a lot of the gang activity in the Salt River community.
GC LIVING: If it were possible, what would be your do-over moment?
SHERIFF LAMB: I would have joined the military. In hindsight, I always loved the military. And as a kid, I thought I would be in the military. Somewhere along the lines, after I returned from my mission, I started focusing a little bit more on business and kind of missed that window and that’s the one do-over I would have.
GC LIVING: In law enforcement, everyone has a call they remember. What’s the one that really strikes you and stands out the most?
SHERIFF LAMB: You know, there are a lot of calls you remember. And some of the calls that you remember, you don’t like to remember. But unfortunately, they are the calls that ingrain in your memory. As far as calls that I remember that were fun – I’ve had a couple of foot pursuits with gangsters with guns, and we were able to catch them and protect the community. So those are some of the ones that stick in my mind, along with some of the other ones that you really don’t like to remember.
GC LIVING: What’s the one you remember that’s a feel-good event?
SHERIFF LAMB: You know we’ve had a lot of those. I really enjoyed working in the gang capacity, because we were able to do a lot of community events and that was really heartwarming. We were able to see changes in people’s lives. I remember we were looking for a girl one time. We just happened to find her in an abandoned house, right outside of the reservation in Mesa. She was actually doing some harm to herself, but we were able to find her in time and save her. So, that was fairly rewarding.
GC LIVING: Did you have a mentor while you were in law enforcement? Is it your detective friend that got you into this?
SHERIFF LAMB: It is. He got me into it and then we worked together as detectives. The characteristics he had that I really appreciated and then I tried to embody were that he was very intelligent; he looked at things very methodically, was very patient, and really, when you get into a lot of aspects of law enforcement, it requires those qualities – to be patient and to be fair and equitable as you look at things. What you may see on the outside may not be what truly happened. And really, he taught me to be able to look at that and to really delve into it and make sure that you’re finding what truly happened. And that it will come with the patience and you need to just be very systematic in how you do things. He was an excellent example of that.
GC LIVING: Well, now we need to ask the really telling question on that subject. What is his name?
SHERIFF LAMB: (Laughs) His name is Scott… (Laughs) if that will suffice.
GC LIVING: What are some of the challenges facing those in law enforcement, not just in Pinal County, but also in the State of Arizona?
SHERIFF LAMB: I’m going to go a little broader and include those on a federal level, even on a national level. I think that the media has somewhat turned on law enforcement. And I think over the last eight years, we didn’t see a lot of support from the administration we had. It was not so pro-law enforcement. It didn’t help law enforcement.
Here in Arizona, we have a lot of the same challenges. We deal with illegal immigration. We deal with drugs, like all the other states do. We deal with human trafficking. We deal with sex trafficking. Those are things that probably are some of the bigger issues that we deal with here in the State of Arizona and those fall to our county as well.
GC LIVING: What made you decide to run for political office? It’s a big leap to go from working for a department to running for office to run the department.
SHERIFF LAMB: There are a lot of factors in that. The biggest factors are that I love this country. I love the constitution. I love the freedom that we have in this country and what I was seeing in this country was not what I thought was the direction that we needed to go.
I believe that we were starting to lose some of those freedoms and lose track of what truly made us the great nation that we are, and so I wanted to get involved and do my part and get in and show my kids, at the same time, that you can do whatever you put your heart and your mind to, and you can actually make a change.
If you believe in what you do and then you have a good cause, I think that you can do a lot. But ultimately, it’s my love for this country, my love for freedom and the constitution of this great country.
GC LIVING: So why do you think the citizens of Pinal County chose you over the other three candidates for office?
SHERIFF LAMB: I think what people were hungry for in this country was real people–people that weren’t politicians, people that are just normal people, and I think that’s what I am. I never worried about being crossed up, because I’ve always just been honest and I feel like I ran good campaigns. I tried to keep it about the issues and not personal and not get ugly with the campaign, and I believe it’s because we stuck to the values.
I think people are hungry for people with convictions and values in this country. After all, when you think of Americans and America, that’s what you think of, and I feel like I best embodied that – the values, the convictions that people were looking for, and the freedoms and the constitution. Those are the things that we stuck to the whole time, and I think that the results show that’s what people were really hungry for.
GC LIVING: So let’s circle back to the previous question and how that answer ties in with the challenges facing law enforcement here in Pinal County. So here we have problems with illegal immigration, drugs and sex trafficking. How can we change the perception of law enforcement to a positive here in Pinal County?
SHERIFF LAMB: That’s a great question. And one of the things that I’ve said all along in the campaign and I continue to say is we, as law enforcement, need to bring the humanity back to law enforcement. I want to focus on that. I believe in empowering our deputies to do their jobs, and then empowering them to trust in doing what’s right.
I have a little patch that we have on our shirts, which by the way, we didn’t want to spend the money to get new shirts, so we had a patch made to cover the old Sheriff’s name on the shirts. The patch says, “Fear not. Do right.”
And I think, in law enforcement, we need to just condition these guys to get back to just doing what’s right and really being part of the community and playing a role in the community. And I think, as we do that, people will start to look at law enforcement a little bit different again – back to what it used to be.
GC LIVING: So what are some of your short-term and long-term goals for the department?
SHERIFF LAMB: Short-term goals – and this actually turns into a long-term goal – but a short-term goal is morale issues. We want to make sure that we fix our morale issues, and I think we’re already working on that. We’ve got some budget issues that we’re working on. We’ve got some relationships that we’re strengthening or we’re restoring. In particular, there were some damaged relationships between the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and the Pinal County Board of Supervisors, and so we’re working hard on our short-term goals. We’re going to fix those issues.
Long-term goals are that we want to continue to do what we need to do to maintain a good morale. We want to make sure that we can keep those deputies here that have the experience and not lose them to other agencies. We want to make sure that we can continue to provide a quality product to the people of Pinal County, and like I always say, provide a maximum return on investment on the county residents’ tax dollars.
GC LIVING: There was a time, not too long ago, that the sheriff’s office took some pretty drastic budget cuts which reduced the number of staff, particularly in the jail. Is that something that you’re going to work on addressing as budgets become available from the board of supervisors? How do you plan on addressing staffing shortages as our county continues to grow so rapidly?
SHERIFF LAMB: The county has been absolutely amazing so far. We have been working hand-in- hand with both finance and the board of supervisors and the other agencies within the county, and they have been amazing working with us.
There are some budget issues, but part of fixing that budget actually is putting more bodies on the job, so we reduce the amount of overtime that we’re paying. That can fix a lot of these issues, and so we are currently hiring deputies and we’re hiring detention officers. We’re working on trying to fix those issues already, and it’s only been a month. I think we were two weeks into it when we had already put out the word that we were hiring.
GC LIVING: With the number of attacks on police in recent years, what do you plan to do, going forward, to help keep your deputies safe?
SHERIFF LAMB: There are a lot of things. We’re going to continue to make sure that they have the proper equipment. I go back to what I just said. We’re hiring. That’s a big thing. We need to make sure that we’ve got enough bodies on the street.
We’re not even at full capacity for what the board has approved us to hire. We’re 16 deputies short and we’re almost 20 detention officers short, so we’re working hard to get to that point of where we’ve already been approved. Also important is equipment, and one of the most important things is also training.
GC LIVING: Well, you just touched on equipment. What are your thoughts on police body cams and dash cams?
SHERIFF LAMB: I think that’s a big thing right now. There’s good and bad with it. I recognize those qualities, but we’re not in a position right now as a county. We just don’t have the funding. We’ve got a lot of other budget issues that we need to work through.
We just recently met with ASU Police Department, as a matter of fact, and we talked about this. They were kind of at the forefront getting body cameras into a lot of these local agencies, and they were actually even at the forefront on a national level.
The storage is extremely expensive for the data and for the video, and we’ve just got a lot of other issues within the county. We’ve got to dial in our budget first before we can get into this, so it’s not something that we’re looking at doing right away.
GC LIVING: Issues related to racial discrimination have continued to make headlines in the country as well as here in Arizona. How do you plan to address this in our community?
SHERIFF LAMB: This is – and no offense to you –this is something the media has really latched onto it. That’s what sells. And I think that the media has really skewed what’s going on in this country. Now, am I going to sit here and tell you there aren’t instances of discrimination? No, I’m not going to sit and tell you that.
From a county level, I don’t see that as an issue within the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. Our job is to go out and enforce the laws and to protect the people of Pinal County. We don’t look at your race or your religion or any of those issues, whether you’re a male or a female, when we’re arresting people or when we’re trying to enforce the law. What we look at is, are you violating the law and do we need to protect the people of Pinal County? And we’ll continue to do that job regardless of what race, color or religion you are.
GC LIVING: You’re coming into office, following Sheriff Paul Babeu. What areas or procedures that he implemented do you plan to expand or eliminate?
SHERIFF LAMB: The sheriff did a good job with some of the border things and there are some other good things that he’s done. What we’re going to do is bolster some of those things.
We need to fix the budget. We’ve eliminated some of the positions within the sheriff’s office that were overkill or redundant and that weren’t really needed. We’re trying to consolidate positions with the help of the county human resources and finance departments. We’re working on examining what the county can do for us that we don’t actually have to budget for within our own budget. So we’re working hard on fixing those things.
We’re going to continue to do the job and enforce the law and protect the people within Pinal County. One of the things we’re going to try to get is more bodies up in the Copper Corridor. We’re going to try to involve some of these other agencies that want to work within our county, where you actually can partner with them and it’s low impact for us, but it puts a lot more bodies in our county, a lot more law enforcement opportunities within our county.
GC LIVING: One of the areas that Sheriff Babeu initiated was the aviation unit with the use of a helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft. Will you be continuing this department?
SHERIFF LAMB: I’m glad you asked that question, because there are a lot of people who don’t understand exactly what the aviation unit is. I think they’ve done a good job of bringing that aviation unit in. We actually received a grant from the state through GITIM (Gang Intelligence and Team Enforcement Mission). Those monies actually paid for the aviation unit. What we’re responsible for , I believe, is two employees who we paid for out of our budget. Everything else is paid for out of that grant.
We also just received a fixed-wing plane from the border patrol and it goes through a grant that we have called Stonegarden, which is for protecting the border and fighting drugs and human trafficking. And so we have a little bit more money now that has been allocated to help with fuel and those types of things. And this plane has camera equipment on it. It allows us to be able to really do the job well within this county and assist our federal partners in doing it.
We are trying to sell one of those helicopters. I know that the previous sheriff and his administration started this process. It’s a helicopter that was purchased back when there were no other assets.
Since then, we’ve been able to procure a helicopter and a plane through the DRMO program (Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office), which is a grant program through the military, so those have come at no cost. We just have to maintain them and we just have to pay for the fuel.
So now there is not a need for this helicopter we had originally purchased. So the idea is to sell that helicopter, and those funds will go back into the GITEM fund, not the general budget. And that’s what I want to make sure is clear because I think it was led to believe that the funds would go back and help the budget. Those funds will not go back in the general funding. It’ll go back in to the GITEM fund, which has the purpose of combating drugs, illegal immigration and human trafficking.
GC LIVING: We touched briefly on the budget just a few moments ago. Given the overall county budget crunch, do you believe the PCSO allocation is sufficient or inadequate for the needs of the growing county and the growing demand for public safety services?
SHERIFF LAMB: I wish I could tell you that I knew that answer right now. That is one of the things we’ve been meeting about weekly and sometimes twice a week or more with county finance, to really dial in whether or not the budget is right.
And so it’s probably going to be a little while longer before we know if we have enough money in the budget, if enough has been allocated or if we’re going to need more, but we’re working with the county finance department and with the board of supervisors to make sure that we dial it in just right.
GC LIVING: Now, most people don’t realize Pinal County is almost 5,400 square miles, which is about the size of the state of Connecticut.
SHERIFF LAMB: That’s correct.
GC LIVING: What are some of the unique challenges facing PCSO when it comes to managing law enforcement needs in an area the size of some states?
SHERIFF LAMB: There are a lot of challenges that come with it. One of the major challenges is that we also have the largest unincorporated communities. I believe the San Tan Valley is the largest unincorporated area in the country. If San Tan Valley were to be incorporated, if I’m not mistaken, they’d be the 11th or 12th largest city in the State of Arizona. So we are a county that is patrolling basically a city. So that’s one of the challenges that we face because it requires more manpower than a typical county agency would be used to.
We also have a very wide variety of terrain. We’ve got the Copper Corridor, which is a long stretch of various small towns that need service. One of the things that I’ve identified through the campaign, speaking with farmers and ranchers, is the lack of service that they receive and so we’re working on possibly even re-implementing ranger units. We’re looking at grants and different ways that we could possibly fund that – guys who would go out and patrol some of these areas that are unmanned and where you get a lot of hikers and recreational shooters and different things and even illegal immigration and drugs. So we’re working on ways that we can meet the needs of the farmers and the ranchers in some of the more rural areas.
That brings us back to the aviation unit. You know, this is one of the things that helps us patrol a county this large is having that aviation unit. There are areas in our county that we can’t get through by vehicle.
We are mandated through the Arizona constitution to have the search and rescue, and our guys do a great job, and you’d be surprised at how many people actually need the search and rescue. Those are some of the challenges we face as well, because we’ve got so many recreational areas where people like to go and enjoy this beautiful county we have.
GC Living: Yes, we have such a varied region, from a highly populated area, such as San Tan Valley to the very rural desert areas, such as Hidden Valley or Vekol Valley, or in the Copper Corridor, the mining communities or the mountains. You mentioned the search and rescue team, how many calls would you estimate they respond to every year?
SHERIFF LAMB: Last year was 175 search and Rescue calls. And I can tell you, just recently it seems like it’s almost daily I get an email about somebody else who has been lost. This is a time of year where people like to go out and they like to hike and they like to be out there, but the temperatures and the climate can change fairly quickly. And so, we’re getting a little bit more activity right now.
GC Living: There are regions of the county that have made National news and not in a good way, such as Hidden Valley, Vekol Valley and Silver Bell area, as being an illegal drug corridor. Are they still considered very dangerous, even to go hiking or horseback riding?
SHERIFF LAMB: One of the issues we have down in that neck of the woods is we’re not on the border. And so I don’t want people to believe or think that we are a border county. We’re not on the border. However, we do border with the Tohono O’odham Indian Nation. And the way that the landscape is, it tends to funnel illegal immigrants into that area. We’ll get some illegal activity.
It’s not to the point where residents need to fear. We do a great job and we work with our federal partners to keep that area safe and I think the numbers show there’s been a reduction statewide of people coming across the border, or apprehensions, I think is a better term.
GC Living: Is Pinal County Sheriff’s Office working closely with DPS, Border Patrol and other area agencies to help each other on the number of calls?
SHERIFF LAMB: Yes, and there have been some good working relationships in some of those areas, and some of those were strained. We have met with the majority of those agencies and they’re ecstatic to work with us. And so we’ve been starting to work with others. We work with DPS already and we’re working on bettering that relationship.
Border Patrol is an excellent partner of ours and they enjoy working with us. We’ve been meeting with HSI, which is Homeland Security Investigations and ICE. We’ve met with our local partners, including DEA. Everybody is anxious to work and be part of this county and to help us in our job of keeping this county safe.
GC Living: A number of years ago, then Sheriff Roger Vanderpool came to an agreement with ICE to use the excess space in the Pinal county jail to house their detainees. Is there some opportunity in the future to do so again, or are we using the space that we have available now?
SHERIFF LAMB: We’re currently only a little over a third capacity. So, we actually do have space. I’ve said all along, I’m open to anything that benefits the county and that can help the people of Pinal County and to alleviate the tax burden they have. If the proper opportunity came along, the right opportunity, I would have no problem looking into something like that.
And with this new administration, and some of the recent changes we’ve already seen with the new president, I think they’re doing some things, some good things, already. And I think that’s going to increase the amount of work for ICE, so I would not be surprised if there’s an opportunity that may present itself. But we’re going to make sure that it’s something that works for the sheriff’s office, for the county, and is not something that ends up being a bad thing.
GC Living: You indicated earlier that there is still a very strong drug problem with interstates running through our community. Why has it been so difficult to cripple the drug cartels and reduce drug-related crime?
SHERIFF LAMB: Because people won’t stop using drugs. You know, that’s really the bottom line. It’s a supply and demand issue. If there was no demand, the supply would dwindle away. But we continue to have demand because we have drugs in our communities and people are using those drugs. That would be the ideal situation, but that’s probably not reality. It is difficult because they’re ever-changing; they’re very intelligent.
When we make changes and we begin to cripple them, they make changes to get around that and we constantly have to be evolving to stay ahead and to continue to fight them. And that’s probably going to be an ongoing battle for as long as people are using drugs. And so we’re going to have to continue to work hard and be on top of our game and really it goes back to what you had said earlier. It is working with those partners – our federal partners, Border Patrol, DEA, HIS and ICE to achieve the goal, and DPS, to achieve the goal of eliminating or crippling this industry as much as we can.
GC Living: Putting you on the spot here, forgive me.
SHERIFF LAMB: No Problem.
GC Living: Were you for or against two items – legalizing marijuana and raising the minimum wage?
SHERIFF LAMB: I was against legalizing marijuana. I don’t believe it’s good for our society. I would have enforced the law either way. I took an oath to enforce the law, so as a sheriff, I’m going to enforce the law.
There are several issues, but one of the major issues is, it’s still against the law federally, so it creates a lot of problems if a state approves it and the feds still don’t approve it. So that was one of the issues. There’s a lot, of work to be done there first, but I’m not for it.
I was also against the raising of minimum wage. Not that I don’t want people to better their lot in life, it’s just, I’m a business owner and it takes its toll on businesses and it will increase product prices across the board. So we’ll pay more for things. It’s just inevitable. That is how business works.
GC Living: What do you want to see for a long-term future for Pinal County? For your family, my family, everyone else in the communities, what do you envision Pinal County growing to be?
SHERIFF LAMB: I think Pinal County is where the growth is going to be in Arizona. I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to meet, Mr. Tim Kanavel with the county? He’s done an excellent job with economic growth. We need more economic development here in this county. We have the space for it and I think we would benefit from it tremendously.
And so, as a sheriff and as a sheriff’s office, we’re going to do our job and we’re going to do the best we can and whatever we can to help economic development in this county. In the end, people talk about, “How do you pay more or how do we reduce our taxes?” Well, it’s a revenue issue. You have to create more revenue. I’m not for raising taxes, and so the only other way to increase revenue is to bring more businesses into our county.
We’re going to work hard, as a sheriff’s office, to make sure that we create a good, safe environment where people want to come and live and work and spend their recreation time. So that’s what I see in the long term – creating an outstanding living environment, so that we can bring in the growth that I think is inevitable to this county.
GC Living: Let’s talk about your chief deputies. Tell us a little bit about them.
SHERIFF LAMB: Chief Deputy Matt Thomas was a no brainer. He has almost 24 years here in this county. He has dedicated most of his life to Pinal County, is extremely experienced, very well-respected throughout the law enforcement community and has already proven himself to be a huge asset. He is an excellent law enforcement man and a good person, a very God-fearing family person who I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with.
I also have Chief Bryan Harrell. He was actually a sergeant when I was here, and also, an extremely respected person within the sheriff’s office. Very level -headed, doesn’t say a lot, but gets the job done. And we all have the same philosophy. There is one other person, as well – Kevin Cavanaugh. He’s our administrative commander – very intelligent and former law enforcement, so he gets the law enforcement side, but also a business man. He’s been absolutely invaluable to us and to me in identifying areas where we can save money and things that we need to change within the budget or within the sheriff’s office to make it more streamlined and more efficient for the taxpayer.
And then I also have Chief Matt Hendrick, who is the chief over the jail. He’s actually a sworn officer, so what we wanted to do there was bring somebody in who could look at the jail from a different perspective. We have great captains in there who know how the jail operates. We wanted somebody to come in with a different perspective, common sense, to look at it and be able to identify issues that we needed to change within the jail, as well.
All of these guys have done an outstanding job and have made this job of being sheriff a lot easier for me.
GC Living: Now, the Pinal County Jail has an accreditation that most other county jails does not, correct?
SHERIFF LAMB: That’s correct.
GC Living: Tell us about the accreditation from the Nationals Sheriffs’ Association for Jail Operations. [EDITORS NOTE: The accreditation is governed by legal-based standards established through case law. The Pinal County Jail received its first accreditation in June 2011 and was reaccredited December 2013 receiving a “Level 1” rating, which is the highest score possible. The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office Jail is the first Arizona Jail to receive its National Accreditation.]
SHERIFF LAMB: One of the first things we did is we sat down with the accreditation people. There were changes that we thought needed to be made in the jail. I think back when we had our ICE contract and the accreditation, I think those two got intertwined a little bit. And so people assumed that things that we were doing because of the ICE contract were because of the accreditation. We’ve realized that those two are separate and there are things that we can change that don’t affect the accreditation.
In the end, what I told the accreditation people, and this is what I tell everybody – if it’s going to impede an officer’s safety or impede on the residents of Pinal County, then it wasn’t something that I was going to do. If it went by the wayside, it went by the wayside. But it looks like we’re going to be able to still maintain that and do the changes and make this a great place.
GC Living: So taking over a new position, there probably are not enough hours in the day for you to hit the ground running and to learn from the very bottom up. What’s your day like?
SHERIFF LAMB: Every day is busy. I typically leave my house around 6:30 a.m. I get home about 7:30 p.m. and that would be on the early end, so we’re looking at anywhere from 12 to 15-hour days. All of us are in meetings. Sometimes we divide and conquer; sometimes we’re all there. What we’ve worked hard on is to try to get with all of our partners, our federal partners and our local agency partners and at the same time, we’re already trying to hit on the issues that need to be fixed, such as the budget and laying the groundwork for making this a great place to work. And things that we can do to keep deputies here and to work on getting them more money – these are all things that we’re working on, while at the same time, getting out and meeting with as many people as we can and expressing to them our desire to work together.
GC Living: How much are you hands-on on day-to-day Sheriff’s Office operations, or is that what your chief deputies maintain and you are running from meeting to meeting?
SHERIFF LAMB: I’m all about empowerment. I believe that we pay people to do these jobs and they do a great job at it. A lot of the operational side of things, I don’t have to be hands-on. There are still decisions we make here and there. People want to know when a major incident happens. They want to hear from the sheriff, so there are those things that we have to get involved in sometimes, but right now, we’re focused on trying to fix the things that we as administrators are responsible for. And the other folks have done a great job of just doing their jobs, and it’s really made things a lot easier for us on this transition.
GC Living: One of the other candidates had spoken very vocally about doing an audit. Is that something that you see a need to do? Or are things pretty much rolling along the way they should?
SHERIFF LAMB: You know, there’s a lot of talk. People kept saying, “Well, you got to do a forensic audit,” so when we came in, we were already talking in December about doing an audit. And it’s nothing against the previous administration; we just want to make sure that everything that you took over is there. Any time you buy a company or you take something over, you want to make sure of what you are getting, so we’re looking at auditing equipment lists and evidence and all these different things.
A lot of people talked about a forensic audit. Well, a forensic audit, we found out, is more geared toward if there’s some criminal activity you believe may have taken place. So, a forensic audit really wasn’t what was needed here, so we’ve been working with the county on doing an audit of the finances and the budget. We’re auditing of the equipment and making sure that as we take over, everything’s accounted for. And we know where what we have and moving forward, we know what ground zero looks like.
GC Living: What do you want to tell the residents of Pinal County about the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office? What can they expect when they pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1?
SHERIFF LAMB: Well, I want to say first and foremost, thank you for having the trust in me to put me in this position. I truly do want to be a servant to the people of Pinal County. And I think people who have met me and talked to me and worked with me, they know that’s truly who and how I am. What I want is to be 100 percent responsible and effective with their tax dollars. I want to give them maximum return on investment.
And I want them to know that they have a sheriff who is a man of his word, who is a family man, a man of convictions and values and somebody, whether you agree with me or you don’t agree with me, you’ll know in the end. I hope that people will say that Sheriff Lamb was a good sheriff; he was fair and equitable and his employees within the sheriff’s office treated the people the same way.