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Longtime Yuma County sheriff to retire at end of the year
Yuma County Sheriff Ralph E. Ogden is the longest-serving sheriff in the history of the county, but in just a few days, he’s retiring. Now on his fifth term, Ogden has spent the past 20 years as the highest-ranking law enforcement person in the county and 42 years with the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office.
“I never realized I was becoming the longest-serving sheriff until the last election, because that wasn’t why I was here,” Ogden said. “I was still having fun. I still had an operational group that wouldn’t quit, and was accomplishing good things.”
While he has too many recollections of the experiences he has had during his four decades of service to recall, Ogden said one of the things he will miss most are all the people in law enforcement he has been fortunate to have worked with along the way.
“There have been some real good days and there have been some real bummer days. I think the main thing is the ability to form partnerships and work with people. I think the thing I’m going to miss the most is the camaraderie and the friendship. And the ability to walk around this office or go to other departments and just sort of sit down and talk with them,” Ogden said. “I like to think of Yuma County as one big happy family. We are far enough away from Phoenix and San Diego that we kind of have to fend for ourselves. And in order to fend for ourselves, we all have to be friends, and we all got to work together. We also all have to have the same goals. We have done that within the departments, and we have done it within the law enforcement society as a whole in Yuma County. I think we have done it in the community as well.”
He added that he considered himself privileged to have worked with some employees and deputies who made the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office the first-class law enforcement agency that it is today.
“I look at the employees I have, how they turned out, how they are able to work together, and their professionalism and that is supposed to be a reflection of me,” Ogden said. “All I tried to do was guide them. They brought the raw talent to the group and made it work. It is easy to lead good people.”
Ogden was hired by YCSO in 1970 after spending four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He spent his first year as a dispatcher and jailer in Parker before being promoted to deputy and transferred to Wellton, where he later became the area sergeant.
“When I was hired, there were 37 people working for the sheriff’s office, including jailers and dispatchers, and it included all of La Paz County,” Ogden said. “I only ever worked two other jobs and that was for about a total of nine months.”
Then in November 1980, he became chief deputy for the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office and served in that position until December 1992. He successfully campaigned for the office of sheriff in 1992 and took the oath of office in January 1993.
Ogden said when he took over the sheriff’s office that year, he had 180 employees. Today there are over 400, including the volunteers.
Although he is stepping down as sheriff, Ogden isn’t ready to end his four-decade long career in law enforcement just yet, saying he will take over as the deputy director of the Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program on Jan. 1.
“I’m not the type of person who can walk away from things. I would never make it just sitting around doing nothing. So I’m just going to keep busy,” Ogden said. “I’m going to be dealing with the same people that I have been dealing with the last 15 or 16 years. It won’t be near as intense of a job as being sheriff is, but by the same token it will still allow me to keep my hands in things and keep making a difference in Yuma County.”
Ogden, who has sat on the board of directors of that organization for many years, said the program provides federal funding to designated areas to help reduce drug trafficking.
“(HIDTA) receives the funding from the federal government and the board makes a determination on who gets the money and what they can spend it on,” Ogden explained. “We also make sure the money is spent correctly and in an efficient manner.”
Ogden said he has witnessed his share of changes throughout his career, and most of them have been driven by technology, such as the implementation of the interoperable emergency communications system, which allows law enforcement and first responder agencies throughout the county to speak with one another and share information.
“We never even heard of computers back when I started,” Ogden said. “I can remember getting cell phones just before I became sheriff. It made our job easier in some ways and harder in others.”
While solving horrific crimes and taking down the bad guys are often highlights in a law enforcement officer’s career, Ogden said one of the accomplishments he is most proud of is being able to form a jail district that raised the necessary funding for the maintenance, construction and operation of jail facilities in Yuma County.
He explained that in 1995 the county was told by the federal court that its current jail was not up to standards and needed to be replaced. Since there are very few land-owning taxpayers in Yuma County, Ogden said they came up with a plan to create a jail tax district.
That jail tax district raises about $15 million now, which is about three-quarters of its operating budget. Prior to the tax district the money to operate the jail came out of the county’s general fund.
The title Ogden has held for so long is now going to his former undersheriff, Maj. Leon Wilmot, who will take his place in January.
Ogden added that his office wasn’t just about running a jail or brandishing a badge and gun, it was also about trying to make the community a better and safe place for everyone who lives in Yuma County.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.