Even Arizona Republicans Agree: Joe Arpaio is America’s Most Incompetent Sheriff

“Hello? This is Sheriff Joe! What? An armed robbery in progress, you say? Several men in ski-masks carrying machine guns? And they’ve taken hostages, too? I’m sorry, but all of my deputies are out in the field rounding up gardeners and maids and doing immigration checks on them. Call us back next week when we aren’t so busy.”

Last Thursday night at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim, Bill Hunt grinned from ear-to-ear as he stood near his role model, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who traveled from Maricopa County, Arizona to use his celebrity-status to help the candidate raise the funds he needs to get himself elected as Orange County’s top cop. Arpaio boasts he’s “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” a reputation earned by making jail inmates wear pink underwear, work in chain-gangs, and live in unventilated tents in 115 degree weather.

About 75 demonstrators assembled on the sidewalk outside, all of them protesting Arpaio’s policy of deploying hundreds of Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies to conduct massive “immigration sweeps” in working-class Mexican neighborhoods. Although Arpaio, as usual, pooh-poohed their concerns, its becoming difficult for him to cast his critics in a negative light. The lawman is increasingly facing harsh criticism from right-wing Republicans who consider him to be fiscally irresponsible and incompetent.

In December 2008, the Goldwater Institute, an influential right-wing public policy think tank based in Phoenix, Arizona, quite unexpectedly released a scathing 22-page report stating that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), under the leadership of Sheriff Arpaio, is falling “seriously short of fulfilling its mission” of providing “law-enforcement services, support services, and detention” to the public, noting that its “effectiveness has been compromised for the past several years by misplaced priorities.”

The report’s author, Clint Bolick, Director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton center for Constitutional Litigation, argued that “violent crime rates” under the lawman’s watch have “recently soared” in Maricopa County “both in absolute terms and relative to other jurisidictions” because “substantial resources” have been diverted “away from other law-enforcement activities to the immigration sweeps and the human-smuggling unit” which has had “little, if any effect” on either “illegal immigration” or crime.

According to Bolick, Sheriff Arpaio’s goal of transforming the MCSO into “a full-fledged anti-illegal immigration agency” has “involved hundreds of deputies and thousands of work days,” taking them away “from their normal assignments” —- such as patrol duties and detective work. This has caused “plummeting arrest rates,” “increased response times to citizens’ [911] calls for help,” and botched-up criminal investigations that allowed perpetrators of violent crimes to walk away from their misdeeds unpunished.

“Immigration enforcement is important,” Bolick asserts:
But in its decision to add to its law-enforcement duties those of a “full-fledged anti-illegal immigration agency,” MCSO has accomplished neither task well. By diverting precious law-enforcement resources on high-profile, extremely expensive, yet low-yielding immigration sweeps, MCSO has underminded its effectiveness in its core mission of protecting the lives and property of people who look to it for protection.
Bolick’s report also raises other interesting questions. For example, he asks why Sheriff Arpaio has permitted high-ranking MCSO deputies to take repeated trips down to Honduras “for purposes that are nebulous at best.” Bolick says “profligate spending on these diversions” — foreign junkets, massive “immigration sweeps,” etc. — “helped produce a financial crisis in late 2007 that forced MCSO to curtail or reduce important law-enforcement functions,” eroding its crime-fighting capabilities.

Commenting on Sheriff Arpaio’s “tough” policies toward jail inmates, Bolick writes “it does not take a soft-on-crime liberal to have serious concerns” that the lawman “has lost a substantial number of high-profile [lawsuits] at great taxpayer expense. According to Maricopa County Risk Manager Peter Crowley, over the five-year period from 2003-07, the county has paid out Sheriff Department General Liability claims of $30 million in addition to liability insurance coverage costing $11.3 million.”

He further points out:
[T]he New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston court systems together housed more than 61,000 inmates per day last year, and had a combined 43 federal prison-condition lawsuits filed against them from 2004-07. MCSO, which houses 9,200 prisoners per day, was the target of 2,150 federal court lawsuits during the same period. That amounts to roughly one-sixth the number of prisoners but over 40 times the number of lawsuits filed. The payouts have resulted in an increase in MCSO’s insurance deductible from $1 million to $5 million and a quadrupling of the insurance premium in recent years.
Among other issues Bolick critically examines are: the “huge backlog of outstanding [felony] warrants” that the MCSO has allowed “to accumulate” to the detriment of public safety; the closing of “satellite booking facilities” that benefited local police departments and allowed them to keep more of their cops out on the streets fighting crime; and “chronically poor record-keeping and reporting of statistics, coupled with resistance to public disclosure.”

In order to correct problems cited in his report, Bolick strongly recommended implementing a series of reforms aimed at “increasing transparency and accountability, and at defining jurisdiction and responsibility” of the MCSO. He hinted if they aren’t vigorously pursued, it will be difficult for Sheriff Arpaio to claim his agency “is the leader in establishing the standards for professional quality law enforcement” — something it still isn’t today, incidently.

To read Bolick’s report, “Mission Unaccomplished: The Misplaced Priorities of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office,” please click on the text highlighted above and download the Adobe PDF file to your personal computer.

About Duane Roberts