The Arizona Rangers Tucson Company recently gathered at the Hardesty Police Station for its monthly meeting, led by their first female captain, Vicki Wolf.
At first glance, they look like police wearing black uniforms, but the Rangers are volunteers. They wear Arizona Rangers badges and utility belts similar to a police officer's, carry a flashlight, baton, handcuffs and a firearm.
The organization regularly assists the Pima County Sheriff’s Department with DUI checkpoints, and the Marana Police Department with securing events like with the Fourth of July festivities, El Tour de Tucson and holiday events in December. They do security at community events like the Gem Show, horse races at the Rillito Race Track, the Rodeo Parade, the Tucson Classic Car Show, the Blues Fest at Reid Park and many more.
“We’re all volunteers,” said Tucson company member Walter Ayres. “We give to the organization by contributing our time.”
The members pay for their own uniforms and gear, they drive their own vehicles and put Arizona Rangers magnets on them. They don’t use the red and blue police lights unless working with law enforcement, and directed to do so, like during a DUI checkpoint for example.
The majority of work they do with law enforcement is unpaid. But the organization often gets paid for working security at community events. All of that money goes to local charities at the end of the year.
One such charity is the yearly Shop with a Cop. During the holiday season, five or six Rangers join other local law enforcement agencies and paired with a children-in-need for some shopping. Each child gets $100 for shoes, clothes and a toy.
“Usually whatever goes over 100 bucks comes out of our pockets because there’s no way you can say no to a kid when they want a particular item,” Ayres said. “You’d be surprised how many of them want stuff for their siblings.”
One of the events Ayres finds most rewarding is the annual Hope Fest, which provides over $1.5 million dollars of goods and services such as medical services, dental services, haircuts, food, water, clothes and more to 12,000 needy Tucsonans.
“To me, that’s something that really gives to the community at a giant scale in a short period of time,” he said. “We also have to make sure that everyone is safe. We do get people fighting because somebody cuts in line, and they’ve been waiting out there for four hours. It can get a little crazy.”
Arizona Rangers is a nonprofit, recognized in Arizona Revised Statutes as a law-enforcement auxiliary organization. There are 18 companies, from Kingman and Flagstaff in the north to Douglas and Sierra Vista in the south. Each company ranges from about 10 to 35 members. The Tucson Company has 33, of which only three are women.
A Ranger for 6 years, Ayres was captain for more than three. But after volunteering about 25 to 30 hours a week on top of his full-time job as an engineer at Raytheon, he decided not to throw his name in the hat this April when the company voted on new command staff, electing a captain, first lieutenant, treasurer and internal affairs officer.
Their new captain, Wolf, was also the first female captain of the Sierra Vista Company, from 2010 to 2012. She said it feels good to take over as captain of the Tucson Company, a larger group.
Wolf is a retired manager of a food court at Fort Huachuca. As a child, her mother was a secretary at a police department in Dallas, and cops were her heroes.
“It kinda put the love of law enforcement into my blood,” she said. “I never wanted to be a cop because that’s just crazy—just crazy dangerous. So this is a way to not only give back to the community but give me some law enforcement experience and do something that I really love doing, because I really love being an Arizona Ranger.”
Wolf would like to see more women join the Rangers. She said the predominance of males might be intimidating for some women, but she has seen some progress on that front. She was the only female in the Sierra Vista Company for four years until she recruited three more.
Many of the Rangers have full-time jobs on top of their duties with the company. Ayers estimated that about 25 percent of the Tucson Company are retired, a number of whom are retired veterans. But people who join the group have a diversity of careers including emergency medical technician, heavy equipment operator and process server.
To become a member there’s an initial training period. At the monthly meeting, several men dressed in plain clothes stand, arms folded, for the entirety of the meeting—a good two hours. It’s a test to demonstrate they can stand for a couple hours at a time, a requirement of the job.
Applicants also have to pass a background check and physical tests that include walking 100 yards while carrying a 25-pound backpack, climbing stairs in an allotted amount of time, the ability to squat in order to look under vehicles—all things they will to do on the job.
The training is taught by law enforcement certified by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. Rangers undergo monthly training sessions where they brush up on things like firearm safety, handcuffing protocol, safely clearing a building and knowing the law on what they’re allowed to enforce as Rangers. They’re also trained in the art of verbal de-escalation, which allows them to asses confrontations and help people resolve quarrels by talking. Ayres said it’s one of the most valuable skills they learn.
Ayres always had dreams about being in law enforcement. There are several volunteer auxiliary law-enforcement groups, but he liked the Rangers because of their history.
About to celebrate 60 years of service in November, Congresswoman Martha McSally signed a certificate of “Special Congressional Recognition” to the Rangers for their voluntary service to the state of Arizona. Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild also presented them with a proclamation of recognition for the 60th anniversary.
The modern day Arizona Rangers were formed in 1957, but its history is much older. Over a decade before Arizona became a state, the Arizona Territory was rife with crime. The Territorial Legislature knew if they were going to achieve statehood, they had to put an end to the cattle rustling, bank robberies and train heists. In March of 1901, they approved the formation of a company of Arizona Rangers.
Over the next eight years, 107 men, aged 22 to 65, coming from about 25 states and territories, worked to bring criminal entities under control. The group disbanded in 1909 when a Territory-wide police force was formed.
In 1957, four of the original members and a group of friends formed the modern day Arizona Rangers.
Oro Valley resident Ron Gold is a member of the state chapter. He joined four-and-a-half years ago, after retiring as a Raytheon aerospace engineer. Gold first saw the Rangers directing traffic at a pecan festival in Sahuarita. He was curious—who were these guys were in black uniforms? So he asked one of them. He did some more research and shortly after he retired, he joined up.
“I was looking for something to do and give back to the community,” he said. “When I found out about the Rangers—boom—it sorta just clicked.”