- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - A Maricopa County sheriff’s posse has suspended its operations after questions arose over who is responsible for paying for insurance coverage on posse-owned vehicles.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio says the Sun City posse is the only one of his 57 volunteer posses to suspend its operations over the question of liability.

The sheriff’s office says the county had previously covered some posse-owned vehicles but that county officials have recently said posse members have until mid-April to get private coverage for the vehicles in question. Arpaio said he doesn’t know whether other posses are considering similar suspensions.

The police agency says the issue arose as a result of a policy change by the county. But county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick said she was unaware of any such changes. Arpaio declined to comment on Gerchick’s claim that there were no policy changes.

A Sun City posse commander didn’t return a message left Monday by The Associated Press.

Posses are one of the signatures of Arpaio’s 21-year tenure as sheriff.

The approximately 3,000 unpaid civilians assist sheriff’s deputies in a variety of duties, including maintaining security at crime scenes, bringing people who were arrested by deputies to jail and providing security at malls during the holiday season.

Some posses provide search-and-research operations for hikers lost in the wilderness, while another posse has divers who search for bodies and evidence in lakes. Arpaio’s cold-case posse conducted an examination into the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

Members wear uniforms and can get authorized to carry a gun after training, though only a portion of them can actually carry guns. They can make arrests only at the direction of a deputy sheriff. Posse operations generally don’t receive taxpayer money and instead are funded through contributions and, in some cases, dues paid by posse members.

Posses are responsible for buying their own vehicles.

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