Dupnik has generally stayed out of the limelight since 2011, when he called Arizona a “mecca of prejudice and bigotry.”

Longtime Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said Friday that he plans to retire by the end of the year, ending his 35-year run as the county’s top law-enforcement officer.

Dupnik, 79, has served as Pima County’s sheriff since 1980, winning re-election easily in several elections over his term, but narrowly winning his last campaign in 2012. His current four-year term ends in the fall 2016.

Dupnik made the surprise announcement on the Bill Buckmaster radio show, saying he didn’t want to be one of those elected officials who stay in office well beyond when they should be “put to pasture.”

The sheriff declined repeated requests from the Star for an interview Friday. The department issued a news release confirming that Dupnik plans to retire by Jan. 1, 2016. The release also said there would be “no press conference or further announcements at this time.”

Dupnik, a Democrat, said he wants the Pima County Board of Supervisors to appoint Chief Deputy Chris Nanos to fill out the remainder of his term. Dupnik began grooming Nanos, 59, last year when the department underwent retirements of chiefs.

In an interview last year, Dupnik said he wanted to “ensure continuity and stability in the organization as we go through this period of leadership transition.” He said Nanos was “qualified to take on the challenges” as chief deputy.

Dupnik also said he “wanted to make sure there is some highly trained people at the top of this organization who may be inclined to run for sheriff when the sheriff is no longer here,” he said during the Star interview last year.

Dupnik has more than 50 years’ experience in law enforcement, which included working for the Tucson Police Department before joining the Sheriff’s Department. Dupnik’s office confirmed Friday that he will retire by Jan. 1, 2016.

His department has more than 1,500 employees and a budget of about $120 million. Among his top accomplishments, Dupnik worked to see the implementation of the Pima County Wireless Integrated Network, a radio system that allows 30 public-safety agencies to communicate with each other, and better collaborate on major disasters and incidents.

He also worked to expand the department’s Directed Patrol Program, in which deputies are assigned specifically to identify serial criminals and include officers from all agencies in the county.

In 2011, Dupnik hit the national limelight after comments he made following the Jan. 8 mass shooting, which prompted a recall attempt. During a nationally televised news conference, Dupnik said Arizona had “become the mecca of prejudice and bigotry.” He has generally ducked the limelight since then.

In response to the retirement announcement, Nanos, who has climbed the ranks over 30 years, said: “Although humbled by the sheriff’s support, it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time.

“It is the sheriff’s decision as to if and when he retires, and when that day comes, it will be the Board of Supervisors’ decision as to any replacement,” Nanos said in a statement about whether he would take over for Dupnik on an interim basis.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the community could not have asked for a better sheriff than Dupnik.

“He’s been a great sheriff,” Huckelberry said.

He said Dupnik had been responsible in how he managed the department’s budget over the years as well.

Mark Napier, 52, who lives in Oro Valley and was Dupnik’s Republican challenger in the 2012 close-called election, said Friday that he did hear of Dupnik’s retirement announcement.

Also a law enforcement veteran of 28 years, Napier said of a run for sheriff: “I am not ruling anything out. I love public service, and I will be giving a thought to running for sheriff.

“I have respect for Clarence, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of him basically anointing a successor,” Napier said in reference to Dupnik’s support of Nanos to fill out his term.

“It is an elected office. Clarence Dupnik should not decide who takes over the office when he leaves. The Board of Supervisors will decide who should serve as an interim sheriff.

“I am disappointed to see Clarence not serve out the full term as he said he would when he ran for office,” Napier said.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at cduarte@tucson.com or 573-4104. Twitter @cduartestar

Reporter Patrick McNamara also contributed to this story. He can be reached at pmcnamara@tucson.com or 573-4241.

Reporter

Carmen started at the Star in 1981 and covers the aging population. She wrote “Mama’s Santos: An Arizona Life”, a book about the Mexican and Mexican-American experience in the Southwest through stories about her family. It won 11 awards.