Conservatives all over the country have held Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio up as a model for what a sheriff should be. Immigration enforcement sweeps, cutting back on jail food, refusing to allow inmates to have coffee and cigarettes–and that tent city? Wow. He’s gotta be the genuine article.
But I don’t like the man. I live in Maricopa County. I have seen his jails and all of the things mentioned above, and I like some of Arpaio’s stated ideals. Anyone with decent cognitive ability should be able to balance their view of things, and Arpaio raises more questions than he solves.
Arpaio branded himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff”. Nobody else gave him that title; he took it upon himself. It’s a fantastic political tactic, I have to admit, particularly in a red state like Arizona. Arpaio is famous among his staff for saying, “I only need 51% of the vote and I get that in Sun City (the big Arizona retirement community).” The problem I have always had with all voters, regardless of political affiliation, is that they pay more attention to the hype and don’t dig in enough to see the reality. Arpaio knows how to work the hype.
He’s involved in real estate business transactions which he refuses to make public record. His argument is that because he’s a public-safety officer, he’s exempt from that law. Hogwash, mr. Arpaio. Unless those documents reveal your personal address (which can be redacted), your only reason for keeping those documents a secret is to keep people from knowing how much business you’re really doing – and how much money you might be making.
To me, far worse than his private business dealings are the many other shady things done. I tend to take what I read in rags like the New Times with a massive grain of salt, but there’s some kind of truth to each of those stories. Multiple MCSO officers–many of them experienced officers–have come forward to tell stories of favoritism and political wrangling that should never be allowed to go on in law enforcement. One friend of mine had worked for MCSO for several years, and was even on the jail’s SORT team (SWAT for correctional facilities). He witnessed Arpaio’s true personality. In the 2004 elections, Arpaio got his hands on the list of voting trends, something he was legally not even allowed to see.
His own detention officers had come out in support of Dan Saban that year, and Arpaio was pissed. He found out which of his employees voted against him and punished every single one of them. He even disbanded his entire SWAT team. Veteran officers with years of vital experience were shuffled to desk jobs. And once the new SWAT team was assembled, the new guys raided a home and botched the raid badly.
Money issues have long been a major question for those who actually think before they come out against Arpaio. During a time when money was beginning to get tight, Arpaio and his right-hand man, Dave Hendershott (whom other MCSO officers quietly call “Hendershott the Hutt”), opened a sister-city project in Honduras. Their reason was publicly stated thus: “the violent gang, MS13, has become a major problem in Maricopa county. As we all know, MS13 was founded in Honduras…” This is a patent lie and any cop, corrections officer or border patrol agent worth his salt knows it. MS13 wasn’t born somewhere else. Immigrants from El Salvador, not Honduras, on the streets of Los Angeles founded MS13 as a way to combat the constant threats from the violent Mexican 18th Street Gang. The MS stands for “mara salvatrucha,” or “Salvadoran army ant.”
Arpaio couldn’t come up with anything better than that? You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s not a genuine mistake, it’s a blatant and outright lie. The man has gang experts in his employ. He knew he was feeding his PIO a lie. I can’t believe he’s gone so long without anyone calling him on that one.
Most recently, though, more expenditures have come out that cast Arpaio and his cronies in a very, very poor light. They spent more than $450,000 on a new transport bus–one that the members of U2 would be jealous of. I can understand needing a new bus, but that’s a little over-the-top. More chilling, though, is this report.
MCSO has access to a jail enhancement fund that has been used for equipment directly related to the jails. It’s also been used for monthly trips to Las Vegas, supposedly for training. Resorts in Nashville and Walt Disney World have been paid from this fund. So has Mandalay Bay in Vegas. And the Paradise Point resort in San Diego. One employee went to Boston for training in October 2006 and stayed at the Nine Zero hotel downtown, racking up a five-night bill of over $2100. He claimed that all of the other hotels in the area were booked solid. That’s convenient.
I’m curious to know why they have to go to Las Vegas and luxury hotels in Boston, Florida and Tennessee for training. There’s plenty of training right here in Arizona. And there’s little to no oversight for this fund, so they really don’t have to answer for this. Arpaio has been caught using this fund for political ads, parties at an amusement park and brand-new vehicles that aren’t needed. And the Honduras office? Still functioning. We’ve got enough money for that kind of crap but we can’t fix the health services at the jails–the health services recently lost their accreditation because of the poor service resulting in inmates being denied medication and care.
I like the idea of tent city. I like the idea of not giving inmates coffee. I like that the food isn’t top-notch. Jail isn’t supposed to be a pleasant experience. But why do we make inmates stay in tent city and purchase their own water from a machine that doesn’t work? And why are there only two officers at Tent City at any given time? That’s incredibly dangerous. The recidivism rate hasn’t dropped.
What I don’t like about most of Arpaio’s detractors is that they all seem to have an agenda. For the most part they’re pro-immigrant groups who call him a racist and a bigot. I don’t think he’s either of those things. He’s just a shady character. He’s no different from any other politician out there. I cannot support Joe Arpaio no matter how much I may like the idea of immigration enforcement sweeps, because he undercuts himself with all the other stunts he pulls.
Joe Arpaio is not my hero. You should think twice before putting him on a pedestal, too. Don’t support the man just because he does something here and there that you agree with. Ask the hard questions and live with the honest answers.