Should he stay, or should he go? Issues, approaches and philosophies aside, the 2012 election for Pima County sheriff comes down to that one basic question.
After 32 years in office, should Clarence Dupnik get a ninth term based on his long and successful track record, or is it time to shake things up and get a fresh face in there?
Republican Mark Napier and Green Party candidate Dave Croteau side with the latter. But voters have overwhelmingly favored Dupnik, a Democrat, since he was first elected in 1980, giving him at least 55 percent of the vote each time. In many elections, they picked him by a nearly a 2-to-1 margin.
Not bad for a man who said he never wanted to be sheriff. But after being appointed to that post by the Pima County Board of Supervisors in 1980, Dupnik quickly realized the position was the only way he was going to stay in law enforcement.
"If I wanted a job, I had to run for the office," Dupnik said last week.
More than three decades later, the 76-year-old said he's ready for another four years, despite the 'He won't last another term' rumors.
"They've said that for the last three terms, the last three elections," Dupnik said of his supposed intention to retire in the middle of his term, thus enabling him to hand-pick a successor. "The problem is they can't find any scandals or anything to report about. I'm going to keep going as long as I can, and the people allow it."
Napier, 52, who lines up as Dupnik's toughest challenger in recent memory after blowing away the competition in a five-way race for the GOP nomination, said he's heard those rumors as well. And while he won't comment on their veracity—"He knows his intentions better than I do," Napier said—he does say that Dupnik's legacy is based too much on the past.
"From the '80s to the mid-'90s, (Dupnik) said he did a good job, and that's a factual statement," Napier said. "But since then, it's stagnated. Every once in a while, it's good to shake up the culture and ask, 'Why do we do it that way?' It's just time for a more-visible, more-engaged, more-effective sheriff—certainly a more-energetic one."
Napier points to the candidates' websites as an example of Dupnik's lackadaisical approach. Napier's site includes a bevy of information about his credentials and what he wants to do as sheriff. Dupnik's is basically a retrospective on his career, along with an invitation to go to the Sheriff's Department website for more information. There's no contact information listed.
"If you want to know what I'm going to do in the future, look at my platform page," Napier said. "Go to Dupnik's page; it tells you what he's done in the past. There's a donate button on there, but there's no way to contact him. If you're not willing to be contacted by your constituents, what does that say?"
Dupnik scoffs at the notion he's become complacent, ticking off a series of proposals: Get all local law enforcement and first-responders on an integrated wireless network; develop a better way to assess suspected mental illness before tragedy occurs; create patrols that would focus on chronic street criminals.
His re-election campaign has put a premium on the word "keep," using it in all promotional materials. The incumbent said this is meant to bridge the gap between what he's done and what he still wants to do.
"I don't think you ever accomplish everything you want to do in life," Dupnik said. "I'd like to see what we might (still) be able to do."
Croteau, 61, got 16 percent of the vote against Dupnik in 2000 and has run for Tucson mayor three times. He considers Dupnik's plans just more of the same: the militarization of police and too much of a focus on low-level drug crime.
"The sheriff doesn't need to network with 18 (law-enforcement) agencies; he needs to network with 250 neighborhood associations," Croteau said. "I want to honestly discuss the role of sheriff, and transition it into peacekeeping from just law enforcement. I'm the only clear choice. Nothing is fresher than my ideas."
Many of the "Keep Dupnik" signs found throughout the county have smaller signs attached to them that say he has the endorsement of the Pima County Deputy Sheriff's Association, which represents about 70 percent of all sworn officers with the rank of sergeant or below.
Chairman Joseph Cameron said the PCDSA board voted for the endorsement because not enough members attended the April meeting when the issue was set to be discussed. But an email vote on whether to spend association money on radio ads and campaign signs was "overwhelmingly approved," Cameron said.
"Dupnik's a Democrat, and in general, most police officers are conservative; they're Republican," said Cameron, a 25-year Sheriff's Department veteran. "The guys don't always agree with what he says, but the reason the guys endorsed him is ... he runs a really good organization. He treats us fairly. He keeps us in the black—no layoffs, no furloughs."
Napier said he'd do the same, tapping into his experience—he retired from the Tucson Police Department as a captain—as well as his business pedigree as an administrator with the University of Arizona's Parking and Transportation Services and head of Boston University's online criminal justice program, to take a more-modern approach.
He cited the recent incident involving around eight Pima County Jail corrections officers (the jail is under the sheriff's control) in the savage beating of four men outside of the Buffet bar. Though most of the officers have either been fired or suspended, Napier said the real question is whether the incident could have been prevented internally.
"This was an unprovoked, aggressive attack by a large number of Pima County employees against an individual who was innocent," Napier said. "I would say that it would cause me a great deal of discomfort. ... It might be indicative of a systemic problem. I'd want to find out how we got to this point."
Dupnik said the incident was an "aberration" and has nothing to do with his department. He said the fact that discipline has been swift and stern shows he didn't condone the actions.
"I think that's one of the things that keep the sheriff more attuned to the community and more responsive to the community," Dupnik said. "If I'm running a lousy organization, I can kiss my chances of being sheriff goodbye. And it should be that way."