Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona has spent his career seeking attention and notoriety. Sheriff Joe has given himself the title “Toughest Sheriff in America” and he routinely preaches that the system shouldn’t “coddle” prisoners. For nearly two decades he has housed inmates in his notorious “Tent City,” as a way of practicing what he preaches.
Tent City, however, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It is billed as hard time for hardened criminals but according to JJ Hensley of the Arizona Republic, Tent City houses prisoners who are classified as medium or minimum security risks and are sentenced to less than one year and they must participate in work programs. After all, Sheriff Joe doesn’t coddle prisoners. So, what happens if they refuse to work? According to Hensley, prisoners who refuse to work are housed in regular jails. You know, the kind with TV’s and air conditioning. That’s hard time isn’t it?
Sheriff Joe seems to be willing to do whatever it takes to create controversy and in turn attract attention to himself. He boasts about his aggressive policies towards enforcing federal immigration laws despite the fact he has no authority to do so. Take a look on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office website will show you that Sheriff Joe brags that his agency has apprehended hundreds of people who were either transporting illegal immigrants or were themselves illegal immigrants. These statistics are found in the same area of the website as his “mugshot of the day” where visitors can vote for their favorite mugshot. The mugshot depicted on the date of my visit to his site, December 15, 2011, showed an inmate with a bandage over his forehead and an obvious goose egg on the side of his head. Though the site doesn’t specifically say that the visitor should cast their vote as a way of making fun of a prisoners injuries or appearances, the title “mugshot of the day” in conjunction with such a photo and an invitation to vote on your “favorite mugshot” seems to suggest that Sheriff Joe would like for us to poke fun at and even humiliate his prisoners for their misfortunes.
But, back to those illegal immigrants and Sheriff Joe’s campaign to usurp federal law enforcement powers and responsibilities. Sheriff Joe has caught a lot of flack, as the State of Arizona also has, for passing and/or attempting to enforce immigration laws that not only seem to overstep a state’s legal authority but also encourage racial profiling.
Just how deep is Sheriff Joe’s involvement in racial profiling? Today the US Justice Department revealed the results of a three-year investigation into Sheriff Joe’s tough enforcement of crime which revealed that Latino drivers in Maricopa County were “four to nine times more likely to be stopped than similarly situated non-Latino drivers” says US Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Thomas Perez. It seems Sheriff Joe likes to humiliate not only his prisoners by way of mugshot contests but also the Latino population of Maricopa County by targeting motorists with brown skin.
An NPR report on a recent Justice Department release reveals federal investigators also found that people who opposed the policies of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office sometimes found themselves “arrested and jailed for no reason or forced to defend against specious civil complaints or other baseless charges.”
As if those findings weren’t bad enough, the Justice Department’s investigation also reportedly revealed that detention officers with Sheriff Joe’s agency punished Latino inmates who were not fluent English speakers for not responding to commands in English and those same prisoners were forced to sign forms printed in English that waived many of their constitutional rights without the benefit of an interpreter.
As a police officer, it sickens me deeply to see another law enforcement official seek personal fame and notoriety for their professional services by trampling upon the people we are sworn to protect and their rights which we are sworn to defend. While Sheriff Joe has yet to be charged or convicted of a crime, it bothers me to see that evidence exists that he and his agency has willingly violated the US Constitution and the Civil Rights Act. At the very least it is time for the citizens of Maricopa County to demand an end to such practices by demanding his resignation.