Cochise County’s nearly 125,000 citizens are served by multiple municipal police agencies, most with their own colorful histories, as well as the county sheriff’s office, tasked with providing general police services to unincorporated areas.
Many of the county’s municipal police departments have colorful histories of their own. The county seat of Bisbee established its own municipal police department in 1880, a year before the county was split off from neighboring Pima. The Bisbee Police Department was granted the sometimes unenviable job of policing a rowdy mining town, a proposition that was made all the more difficult by the presence of Bisbee’s infamous Brewery Gulch, a notoriously lawless red-light district.
The Bisbee police were involved in a few notable incidents, including the Bisbee Deportation, wherein striking miners were detained at gunpoint and illegally forced out of the state, and the Bisbee Riot two years later when a group of African-American soldiers from the 10th Cavalry Regiment were involved in a scuffle with law enforcement, an event that quickly escalated into an all-out street battle that ended with over 100 rounds fired, and at least 8 people were shot, including a female bystander who was struck in the head by a stray bullet. The federal government (who had been surveilling local law enforcement following the Bisbee Deportation) concluded that there had been a concerted effort by local authorities to provoke the African-American troopers into a fight, and, ultimately, no soldier was seriously punished for the riot.
Another local department, the Sierra Vista Police, was established as a one-man station in 1957. The tiny department lead a relatively peaceful, rustic existence, until a sudden burst of grisly child murders in 1967 brought jurisdictional conflicts with state and federal authorities, as well as modernization, lead by the department’s chief, C. Reed Vance.
When the serial child murderer Steven Huff, who had coined the grandiose title of ‘The Phantom’ in the taunting notes he had sent to the police, was apprehended, it was the Sierra Vista Police who had picked him up on a hunch from Chief Vance. As a result of their efforts, Huff would spend the next 50 years behind bars.
Other municipal agencies include the Douglas Police, serving the town of Douglas, a smelting town incorporated in 1905 to process copper ore from nearby Bisbee; the Huachuca City Police, serving Huachuca City, a tiny rail town just north of Fort Huachuca, established in 1958; and the Benson Police Department, serving the town of Benson, established in the far west of the county in 1880 to serve as a rail terminal for the Southern Pacific Railroad.