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Church State Issues

Arizona bill would force Colorado City police to disband

Feb 9, 2012

By: Mike

Arizona Republic

Is this religious discrimination against the FLDS Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?

Arizona bill would force Colorado City police to disband

Measure targeting decertified officers advances in Senate

by Dennis Wagner - Feb. 8, 2012 09:23 PM

The Republic |

The polygamist-controlled town of Colorado City would be forced to disband its police department under a bill that passed an initial legislative hurdle Wednesday.

The measure was approved unanimously by the Senate Committee on Government Reform at the urging of Attorney General Tom Horne.

If adopted by the full Legislature and signed into law, Senate Bill 1433 could shut down a municipal police force whenever more than half of the average number of officers has been decertified over a period of time. Among Arizona's 91 incorporated communities, Colorado City is believed to be the only one that would meet that criteria.

The town along the Utah line serves as base for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which teaches that plural marriage is instrumental to heavenly exaltation. Members of the sect control the town and its police agency, known as the Marshal's Office.

Town officials did not respond to interview requests.

Colorado City and its sister community, Hildale, Utah, have been targeted for years by authorities in connection with under-age marriages, fraud and other crimes. The church's president and prophet, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life sentence in Texas for having sexual relations with underage girls.

Investigators and former church members complain that town officers ignore the law and instead carry out directives from spiritual leaders.

According to Arizona's Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, Colorado City averages 10 officers at any one time. A half-dozen of them have been decertified in recent years, some for misconduct with minors and others after declaring their allegiance to the FLDS prophet above the law.

Among the 17 bills Horne has advanced this session, he said SB 1433 is the most important in terms of public safety. The bill still must go through another committee to the full House and Senate for passage. Horne said he knows of no opposition.

Flora Jessop, a former church member who maintains contacts in Colorado City, said the bill is desperately needed because oppression appears to be at its worst in 15 years.

"It's getting to the point where people actually fear for their safety because of the police department," she said.

The legislation does not specifically mention Colorado City or polygamy. Rather, it says a police department must be closed if the number of decertified officers over an eight-year period exceeds the average number of police employees by 50 percent or more. In that case, the county sheriff would take over public safety, and the town would pay for all costs.