The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office raised privacy concerns Thursday about Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s plan to have his air posse search for filthy pools in the battle against West Nile virus.
Barnett Lotstein, special assistant county attorney, said that while the flyovers are not illegal, randomly peering into someone’s back yard without prior indication that there is a mosquito problem raises concern about privacy rights.
"While we welcome the investigative assistance . . . there’s a concern," Lotstein said. "We hope the posse members conducting surveillance will be sensitive to the privacy issue. Peeping on them from the sky might be disconcerting to some."
Arpaio, who launched the operation Thursday, said he wants to take a proactive approach to the deadly virus before the season begins.
Once green pools are spotted from the air, ground patrol posse members will identify the residences and forward the information to the county’s environmental services department.
Lotstein said the idea of flyovers had been discussed with environmental services officials in the past, but was put on the back burner because of the privacy concerns.
Reports of dirty pools often come from residents who observe a mosquito problem in their neighborhood or suspect a filthy pool. If the pool violates the county health code, the homeowner can face a misdemeanor charge, which carries up to a $500 fine or 30 days in jail.
Sheriff’s spokesman Jack MacIntyre said Arpaio does not need permission from the county attorney’s office to protect the health interests of Maricopa County residents.
"Our personnel is perfectly capable of balancing the privacy interests of individuals with the serious threat to public health that exists with the threat of a West Nile virus outbreak," MacIntyre said. "The county attorney’s office concedes that nothing in this plan is illegal. This is merely a poorly disguised attempted for the county attorney to bootstrap their lack of imagination and creativity onto a very worthwhile plan conceived and executed by Sheriff Arpaio."