Reform jailing and policing practices in largest Arizona county
Arizona’s Maricopa County takes a harsh stance on illegal immigration ― but not so harsh as to re-elect the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Ironically, at the same time that 49.5 percent of them helped deliver the presidency to a man who continues to call for a border wall that Mexico will inexplicably pay for, the voters of Maricopa County ousted Arpaio after 24 years in the position. Arpaio is infamous, in part, for racial profiling geared at spotting people in the country illegally, but after six terms of similar policies and numerous resulting civil suits, approximately 55 percent of Maricopa voters apparently had enough.
Among other things, Arpaio is responsible for Tent City, an open-air jail in Maricopa County that houses at least 2,000 inmates, many of whom are low-level criminals serving short sentences or people awaiting trial who have not even been convicted, according to a July 29, 2013 ABC News article. Tent City subjects its prisoners to triple-digit temperatures that can easily exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.
To make matters worse, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, published on Dec. 15, 2011, found evidence of discriminatory practices in Maricopa’s policing and jailing, as well as “use of excessive force against Latinos” and “gender and/or national origin bias by failing to adequately investigate sex crimes.” The report showed that Arpaio not only abused his power but also neglected his actual job duties.
These same practices ultimately landed Arpaio with criminal contempt of court charges in October after he failed to comply with a 2011 court order mandating that he cease his immigration patrols, according to an Oct. 25 Los Angeles Times article.
Over the years, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have gone toward defending Arpaio in legal disputes like this, according to a Nov. 9 New York Times article. “He went from a leader of a law enforcement agency to literally being an outlaw,” as Paul K. Charlton, United States attorney for Arizona from 2001 to 2007, told the New York Times.
From wasting tax dollars to neglecting his duties and abusing its people, Arpaio failed Maricopa County. Likely for these reasons, Maricopa voters overwhelmingly rejected their veteran sheriff in this year’s election despite their seemingly contradictory support of Trump.
Arpaio and Trump share uncanny similarities, from their “tough” stances on immigration to their perpetuation of the conspiracy that President Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Both demagogues rode a wave of xenophobic sentiment in their rise to power, and both had ongoing trials during their election bids this year.
The parallels, albeit coincidental, are difficult to ignore. In fact, some people, like Republican political strategist Barrett Marson, have even called Arpaio “the Donald Trump of Arizona,” according to the same Nov. 9 New York Times article.
Why, then, did Maricopa voters embrace one and forsake the other?
One admittedly optimistic possibility is wisdom in an electorate that, on some level, recognized flaws in Trump and Arpaio’s shared views once those views were put into practice. In other words, even with all their similarities, Trump and Arpaio differ in at least one obvious regard: time spent in public office. Trump has spent no time turning his thoughts on public policy into action; Arpaio has spent 24 years. After experiencing the latter’s actions, Maricopa voters rejected Arpaio. “The people Arpaio targeted decided to target him,” the executive director of advocacy group Puente, Carlos Garcia, told the New York Times.
Hopefully, after Trump is no longer just an ideology and, like Arpaio, has instead become a series of violated rights and failed actions, Maricopa — and, on a larger scale, American — voters will have gained enough wisdom to reject another term from Trump, too.
Such a hope may be excessively idealistic, but at least it held true in the Sheriff’s office this year. Instead of Arpaio, Maricopa voters elected former Phoenix police sergeant Paul Penzone, who ran on a platform of prison reform and civil rights, according to his campaign website.
“I pursued this because I want to restore the respect, the transparency,” Penzone said late last Tuesday, according to a Nov. 9 Arizona Republic article.
Penzone has said that he will work to “enhance community-based policing efforts for all cultures, ethnicities, communities and neighborhoods, restoring trust and confidence.” He also promised to correct the wrongs committed by Arpaio and “adhere to federal mandates, relieving taxpayers of this additional burden,” according to a Nov. 11 statement he published in the Arizona Republic.
Andre Segura, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represents Latino plaintiffs in the ongoing racial-profiling civil suit against the Maricopa Sheriff’s Office, has expressed hope that Penzone will work to resolve issues Arpaio created. Segura also called on Penzone “to improve community trust … and police legitimacy,” according to a Nov. 10 KJZZ article.
Arpaio’s defeat is “justice for the Latino community, especially for immigrants who suffered under [Arpaio’s] reign of terror,” Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, said, according to a Nov. 8 Cronkite News article.
The outcome of the Maricopa sheriff election shows an encouraging level of progress, but Maricopa residents must not become complacent. They must hold Penzone accountable for his promises. In 1992, Arpaio originally ran on a more moderate, more “traditional” platform, according to a Nov. 8 Los Angeles Times article, but he became more extreme as his tenure dragged on. The risk of something similar exists for Penzone, so Maricopa voters must remain vigilant in ensuring that their next sheriff does not perpetrate civil rights abuses as the former did.
This vigilance has only become more crucial in the wake of Trump’s victory. As hateful efforts to combat illegal immigration inevitably intensify under the Trump administration, all counties across America ― especially those in states with high populations of immigrants — must actively oppose racial profiling.
Hopefully, in Maricopa, Penzone will reform Arpaio’s deeply flawed practices. That is the least residents deserve after finally ousting “America’s toughest sheriff,” a man who does not even show the most basic empathy for the people he has harmed, through policies he himself recognizes as debasing. “If I do go to jail,” Arpaio said, as quoted in the same Nov. 9 New York Times article, “I’m glad it will be federal, because I’ll get three square meals a day” — instead of the mere two served at the jails he ran. Arpaio, the same man who notoriously said, “Jail is not a country club,” clearly thinks he is above his precious “Tent City.”
While Arpaio may never feel the same pain and discomfort he inflicted on others, at least Maricopa County is finally free from him.