Maricopa County police agencies are set to collect more than $10 million courtesy of the federal government this year, cash that might help capture some of the county's tens of thousands of fugitives. But the Valley's law enforcement community is still trying to figure out whether its police departments can work together.
Maricopa County police agencies are set to collect more than $10 million courtesy of the federal government this year, cash that might help capture some of the county's tens of thousands of fugitives.
But the Valley's law enforcement community is still trying to figure out whether its police departments can work together.
To make such collaboration possible, some police groups argue, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office must first take responsibility for the nearly 40,000 active felony warrants within its jurisdiction.
"All those warrants do present a clear and present danger to the public safety," said Sgt. Fabian Cota, president of the Mesa Police Association. "And, obviously, if our officers are being involved in shootings with these suspects so often, it presents a danger to our officers too."
MCSO does not have a single deputy targeting fugitives and refuses to provide manpower to the various units focused on felony warrants.
That is not the agency's job, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio argued at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
"We're not responsible for it," Arpaio said, adding that his deputies and detention officers apprehended 17,000 fugitives in the course of their regular duties last year. "We do a great job with the warrants."
The sheriff's office further rankled colleagues last month when Deputy Chief Paul Chagolla denied that the backlog deserved to be called a "crisis."
Last week, the county's 15 largest departments declined to form a countywide partnership to serve felony warrants.
The county government proposed using a portion of the federal funds, which come from the economic stimulus package, to establish a new task force with the sole responsibility of catching fugitives, said Amy Rex, the county's criminal justice project manager.
"What we wanted to do is take some charge of our own and control our own destiny a little bit and show that we are taking action," Rex said.
The decision over who must do what on warrants might soon be decided for the police departments.
On Monday, the state Senate's judiciary committee continued hearings on fugitives to work toward figuring out who in law enforcement is ultimately responsible for making those arrests. Currently, state law only dictates that county sheriffs enter the felony warrants into state and national databases.
Unlike other metropolitan regions, Maricopa County does not have an agency or task force charged with tracking down fugitives.
And that kind of partnership appeared unlikely from the start. "We knew with some of the feelings with the sheriff, and folks agreeing or disagreeing as they will on his actions regardless of the issue, that may have been a stumbling block," Rex said.
None of the police officials cited the sheriff's office as the reason for avoiding a countywide task force.