By Naomi Hatch
John James recently retired from Navajo County Sheriff’s Office after a 33-year career in law enforcement.
A native Arizonan, he was born in Mesa and raised in Scottsdale. He met his wife Lisa when they were both working at Smitty’s Bakery. They have been married for 37 years.
James attended Gila Pueblo College in Globe in 1979, and his first job in law enforcement was as a one-man resident deputy for Gila County at Christopher Creek, where he was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
While at Christopher Creek he made a point of getting to know all the ranchers in the area; he knew where he could go for help, even in the middle of the night, if necessary.
After four years he became a detective for the Gila County Sheriff Office stationed out of Payson, and in 1984, he and his family moved to Taylor.
“We liked the area. We fell in love with it,” said James. “We enjoyed the culture the community offered, the closeness of it.” He applied at both the Taylor and Snowflake police departments, and waited for over a year until Snowflake Police Chief Sank Flake hired him. He was one of three officers, including John Stew-art.
In the late 1980s, the Snowflake and Taylor police departments became one, James recalled, noting, “That was a big to do, a lot of lines were drawn,” as some residents of the town were in favor and some were not.
James was the part-time animal control officer, and was a sergeant, detective, lieutenant, acting chief three times and chief of police for three years while with the Snowflake-Taylor Police Department.
“A law enforcement career is good, but you have to have church and family, too,” he said.
James noted that when he started, dispatch was through Navajo County and then Show Low.
“It was with Show Low when we took on the challenge to bring on our own dispatch center,” he said. James and a few other officers set the policies and hired five dispatchers. He, Larry Fellows and a couple of other officers went to dispatching school with the new dispatchers so they would know how to teach dispatchers.
On June 30, 1999, James resigned from STPD. The following day he became a deputy with the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office, where he served for 13 years, moving up from deputy to sergeant, then lieutenant and retiring as operations commander.
James taught at the Northland Pioneer College academy for 16 years and stated, “I’ve seen officers I trained do 20-plus years and retire.”
“When I broke into law enforcement we wrote reports in pencil on yellow pads,” recalled James, noting that they improved to writing reports in ink, then to having a secretary type them, “then we got computers. They make you work smarter, but you don’t get out as much with the people.”
“It’s been a wonderful career. If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it again,” said James. “You don’t make a lot of money in law enforcement, but it’s been good, very satisfying.”
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By Naomi Hatch