History of the Yuma County Sheriff's Office
What is now known as Yuma County was once a part of Dona Ana County in the New Mexico Territory. The Arizona Territory was created by the Arizona Organic Act which was signed on February 24, 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. The Arizona Organic Act provided for the creation of the Arizona Territory by the division of the New Mexico Territory into two territories along the current boundary between New Mexico and Arizona.
The Arizona Territory was officially established on December 29, 1863 in a ceremony performed at Navajo Springs, Arizona with John Noble Goodwin serving as the first Governor of the Arizona Territory (In office: December 29, 1863–April 10, 1866). In April 1864, Governor Goodwin divided the territory into three judicial districts and appointed a sheriff and other officials for each. On June 1, 1864, Governor Goodwin appointed Isaac A. Bradshaw as sheriff for the Second Judicial District. His office was in La Paz and his duties included collecting taxes, taking the census, and being present at all district court proceedings. Sheriff Bradshaw served from June 1, 1864 to September 10, 1864.
The 1st Arizona Territorial Legislative Assembly convened in Prescott on September 26, 1864. While the lawmakers retained the three judicial districts, they created four counties within the Territory—Mohave, Pima, Yavapai and Yuma—and assigned the sheriffs to them. The boundaries of the four new counties were concurrent with the judicial districts with Yuma and Mohave counties comprising the Second Judicial District.
At the same time the County was established in September 1864, the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office was created. The first appointed sheriff after the creation of Yuma County was William A. Werninger. Sheriff Werninger was appointed sheriff of Yuma County on September 26, 1864 and departed office on November 9, 1864.
The first county seat of Yuma County was established on November 9, 1864 at La Paz. Until 1871, the main office of the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office was located in La Paz, Arizona. In 1871, all county records were transferred from La Paz to Arizona City when that small river port settlement became the county seat. Two years later Arizona City’s name was changed to Yuma.
Office of the Sheriff
During his address to the 1st Arizona Territorial Legislative Assembly on September 30, 1864, Governor Goodwin called for the creation of new legal code to replace the laws that the Arizona Territory inherited from the New Mexico Territory.
The “Howell Code”
On October 1, 1864, the legislature passed its first act, authorizing Governor Goodwin to appoint a commissioner to study and propose a legal code for the Arizona Territory. Governor Goodwin appointed Judge William T. Howell, judge of the First Judicial District, as the commissioner to create a possible code. Judge Howell and his friend, Arizona Territory Attorney General Coles Bashford, had already begun researching a tentative code in April 1864. Two days after his appointment as commissioner, Judge Howell submitted his code to the legislature for consideration. After considerable debate over the proposed legal code and some modifications, the code was enacted and named the "Howell Code".
Chapter III of the Howell Code re-established the office of Sheriffs. Sheriffs were to be elected during the general election for a two-year term. The Sheriff had charge of the county jails and prisoners; served or executed all processes, writs, precepts and orders issued by a lawful authority; and served as assessor and collector of taxes for the county. In his role as County Tax Collector, the Sheriff assessed all taxable property, and collected all taxes due the county.
Click here to Read the Howell Code, 1864 Online
Constitution of Arizona
The Arizona Territory held a constitutional convention in October 1910. The Constitution of Arizona was drafted at the convention, signed by delegates on December 9, 1910, and submitted to Congress. Although the original constitution was approved by Congress, it was vetoed by President William H. Taft because of his opposition to the provision of the right of recall public officials, particularly against members of the judiciary.
The constitutional convention amended the the constitution and resubmitted it to Congress. On February 14, 1912, President Taft approved the revised version of the Arizona Constitution and approved Arizona's statehood.
On November 3, 1964, an amendment to the Constitution of Arizona was passed, changing the term for county officers to 4 year terms.
Article 12, Section 3. County officers; election; term of office. There are hereby created in and for each organized county of the state the following officers who shall be elected by the qualified electors thereof: a sheriff, a county attorney, a recorder, a treasurer, an assessor, a superintendent of schools and at least three supervisors, each of whom shall be elected and hold his office for a term of four (4) years beginning on the first of January next after his election, which number of supervisors is subject to increase by law. The supervisors shall be nominated and elected from districts as provided by law.
The candidates for these offices elected in the general election of November 3, 1964 shall take office on the first day of January, 1965 and shall serve until the first day of January, 1969.
Sheriff's Office Milestones
The Yuma County Sheriff's Office has come a long way from its inception. Following are some of the milestones for the Yuma County Sheriff's Office:
September 26, 1864: Yuma County Sheriff's Office was created. William A. Werninger was appointed sheriff of Yuma County on September 26, 1864 and departed office on November 9, 1864.
1871: All county records were transferred from La Paz to Arizona City.
1935: Yuma County Sheriff’s Office sets up short wave radio service with El Centro and Phoenix Police.
January 1, 1983: Yuma County is divided into two separate counties with the northern portion of the county becoming La Paz County.
October 1986: Addition of new detention facility.
January 1, 1996: The Yuma County Jail District and tax became effective after voter approval in 1995.
September 1996: The Sheriff's Office launches the "Are You Ok?" Program.
March 1997: Opening of Martinez Lake Substation.
March 13, 1997: Ground breaking for new jail expansion.
July 7, 1998: Inmates transferred to Building F of new jail as 48 maximum security cells were brought on line.
May 23, 2006: Opening of new Foothills Substation.
May 2007: Ground breaking for Jail Annex.
August 28, 2008: Grand opening of new Jail Annex.
May 17, 2011: Jail District Special Election: Yuma County voters approved the extension of the Jail District tax for another 20 years in a special election by 61%.
December 28, 2012: Yuma County Sheriff's Office Change of Command Ceremony: The Yuma County Sheriff's Office held the first change of command ceremony in its history to recognize outgoing Sheriff Ralph Ogden for his years of service and to swear in the incoming sheriff, Sheriff Leon Wilmot.
March 14, 2013: Grand opening of the new Wellton Courthouse which includes a Sheriff's Office substation.
April 2, 2014: Yuma County Sheriff's Office wins Yuma County Fair 33rd Annual Demolition Derby.
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