The Goldwater Institute, a conservative public policy research organization, is blasting the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for falling short in its three core missions: law-enforcement services, support services and detention.
The scathing 22-page report, titled “Mission Unaccomplished: The Misplaced Priorities of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office,” is unexpected largely because of its source.
The Goldwater Institute is an independent, non-partisan organization that studies and broadens public policy discussion. The organization promotes limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility, principals that were advocated by Republican stalwart and Arizona icon Sen. Barry Goldwater.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his public relations staff usually dismiss criticism of the Sheriff’s Office as complaints by a conspiracy of “open-border” advocates, Democratic elected officials and “liberal” media members.
“Although MCSO is adept at self-promotion and is unquestionably a ‘tough’ law-enforcement agency, under its watch violent crime rates recently have soared, both in absolute terms and relative to other jurisdictions,” Goldwater Institute researcher Clint Bolick wrote.
“It has diverted resources away from basic law-enforcement functions to highly publicized immigration sweeps, which are ineffective in policing illegal immigration and in reducing crime granularly.”
Arpaio said Tuesday that he had not read the Goldwater report, nor did he intend to read it. Arpaio said Bolick failed to ask Arpaio’s opinion about the findings before publishing the report.
“So he’s getting his stuff from the open-border people,” Arpaio said. “He can’t even come up with a new idea. He has to copy everybody else, including your newspaper. That’s my response to him.”
The report, according to extensive footnotes, is based on information drawn from several media outlets -- including the Tribune’s July investigative series “Reasonable Doubt” -- a variety of federal and local government agencies including the FBI and MCSO, and original research such as an interview with an anonymous MCSO deputy, among other sources.
The Goldwater report faults MCSO for several “misplaced priorities” that have diverted Arpaio’s agency from its intended law-enforcement functions. Among them:
• Extensive trips by MCSO officials to Honduras for purposes that are “nebulous at best.”
• Misguided spending that created a financial crisis in 2007.
• A “huge” backlog of outstanding arrest warrants.
• The closure of satellite booking facilities, an action that has hindered other law-enforcement agencies.
• Excessive use of force and inadequate medical services at county jails.
• Chronically poor record-keeping and statistics reporting.
• Resistance to public disclosure.
The report notes that the massive diversion of resources into policing illegal immigration – largely into cities such as Mesa and Phoenix that already have police departments – coincided with increasing rates of violent crime in unincorporated Maricopa County, plummeting arrest rates by deputies and increased response times to 911 calls in MCSO’s service regions.
The report, by intent, sidesteps the policy question of whether MCSO should be in the business of enforcing immigration or whether deputies engage in racial profiling, Bolick said.
“That’s perhaps what makes this report different than other critiques that have come out,” he said. “We are not differing with the Sheriff’s Office in how it sees its mission. We are taking its mission as a given and finding that the office is not measuring up to its own standards.”
The Goldwater Institute instigated its research early this year after a series of high-profile clashes between the Sheriff’s Office and the Mesa and Phoenix police departments during immigration sweeps, Bolick said.
The report finds that the sweeps took place with little advance notice and virtually no coordination with the municipal police departments, a practice that endangered both residents and law officers alike.
The result of the Sheriff’s Office’s venture into “high-profile, extremely expensive, yet low-yielding immigration sweeps” has undermined its effectiveness in its core law-enforcement duties.
Mesa Police Department sergeant and Mesa Police Association president Fabian Cota said the report addresses serious issues.
“With the amount of money that the Sheriff’s Office is spending, it’s just mind-boggling to me that their accounting and their accountability to the taxpayers is just abominable,” he said.
The institute did not release its before Arpaio won re-election to his fifth four-year term in November because it wasn’t finished, Bolick said.
The report makes several recommendations aimed at improving the safety of county residents including restricting MCSO operations in cities that have their own police departments, delegating MCSO as the primary agency in serving warrants and requiring MCSO to reopen its satellite booking stations.
County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, a Democrat and frequent Arpaio critic, said she also plans to give the report a careful review because it delves into issues that have received considerable public attention in recent months.
“You don’t have to be liberal or you don’t have to be conservative, you just have to look at human rights,” Wilcox said.
Bolick said he is hopeful that the incoming new U.S. Attorney will examine the “whole set of issues” surrounding the Sheriff’s Office, including operation of county jails.
A federal investigation already is underway.
An FBI spokesman could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Agent John Lewis, who is in charge of the FBI’s Phoenix bureau, previously has declined comment on the matter, in keeping with the FBI’s policy to neither confirm nor deny any possible investigation.
Arpaio referred questions about the matter to the FBI. “I’m telling you to call the FBI. What are you calling me for? If they’re supposed to be investigating me, call them,” he said.
Arpaio said he has nothing to fear from the FBI nor the U.S. Justice Department, and that he is comfortable with the policies he’s pursuing. Arpaio strongly encouraged anyone with complaints about his agency to contact the FBI.