Bill Richardson: On May 21, three groups of powerful people met at different Phoenix locations. Law enforcement leaders met at the FBI office for the 10th annual Federal Law Enforcement Memorial Service to honor fallen federal agents and Arizona police officers. FBI Deputy Director John Pistole spoke. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio didn’t attend.
Editor's note: Details about the author's connection to one of the topics of this column should have been included when it was published, but weren't, as explained by Opinion Pages Editor Le Templar.
On May 21, three groups of powerful people met at different Phoenix locations.
Law enforcement leaders met at the FBI office for the 10th annual Federal Law Enforcement Memorial Service to honor fallen federal agents and Arizona police officers. FBI Deputy Director John Pistole spoke. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio didn’t attend.
At the prestigious Goldwater Institute, Clint Bolick, the director of the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation, released a study, “Justice Denied: The Improper Clearance of Unsolved Crimes,” on the failure of Arpaio’s office to properly investigate serious felony crimes. The study found the sheriff’s office doesn’t comply with FBI crime-reporting procedures.
The study profiled the rape investigation of a 14 year-old girl, which was improperly cleared by exception following an investigation that was described as “delayed, incomplete and showed a strong bias against the female victim.” The study concluded “MCSO’s practice of declaring unsolved cases solved presents a clear, present, and urgent danger to public safety.”
In the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tribune series “Reasonable Doubt” by Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin, it was discovered when El Mirage contracted with Arpaio for police services, deputies failed to properly follow up on numerous violent crimes, including at least a dozen rapes of women and children.
Arpaio missed the Goldwater Institute’s presentation and its call for the “Legislature to amend state crime reporting statutes to require the separate reporting of clearances by arrest and clearances by exception, independent audits on crime reporting procedures, compliance with FBI standards, and for the Maricopa County attorney and Arizona attorney general to investigate MCSO’s practices regarding exceptional clearance to determine and ensure compliance with FBI standards.”
So where was Arpaio on May 21?
He was testifying in support of legislation proposed by Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, that would dictate law enforcement arrest policies for immigration violations. Pearce wants city police departments to be like the sheriff’s office. Arpaio opened his testimony by grumbling that others who were invited to testify were obviously too busy to attend the hearing and are probably out talking bad about him.
Then the hearing turned into the usual good-old-boy, back-slapping, fanny-kissing festival with an endless stream of platitudes of how Arpaio is leading the charge against illegal immigration and crime.
Arpaio gratuitously thanked Pearce and the Legislature for the $1.6 million he was just given for his immigration sweeps. Arpaio has been given millions by the state for immigration operations, all while the state crime lab is cash strapped and performing poorly. The lab’s recent failure to perform its statutory duties resulted in a criminal immigrant escaping arrest for rape.
Even with our millions of dollars and 160 federally certified 287(g) immigration enforcement deputies, Arpaio doesn’t lead the county in immigration arrests. Phoenix police Chief Jack Harris does. Phoenix police arrested more than 7,300 illegal immigrants during 2008. Second place belongs to Mesa police Chief George Gascón, whose officers arrested more than 1,200 illegal immigrants and investigated 60 drop houses last year. Phoenix and Mesa made more than 8,500 immigration arrests during routine policing operations by following well-formulated city policies, state and federal laws, and without legislative meddling.
And Arpaio? According to the sheriff’s office, since April 2006, deputies have arrested a little more than 3,000 illegal immigrants.
Beyond Phoenix and Mesa leading the charge in immigration enforcement, FBI records show major drops in serious crime in those two cities while serious crime in areas under Arpaio’s sole jurisdiction skyrocketed. According to FBI and sheriff’s office records, in 2004 there were 6,971 serious felony crimes in areas under Arpaio’s sole jurisdiction. By 2008, there were 10,168 serious felonies reported. Gabrielson and Giblin revealed sheriff’s detectives’ arrest rates dropped from 10 percent in 2005 to 3.5 percent in 2007. Serious crime in Mesa has dropped by 35 percent since Gascón’s arrival in 2006.
And the Legislature wants to command police departments and local governments to emulate Arpaio?
It’s time for folks at the state Capitol and other elected officials who dance when Arpaio fiddles to quit drinking Sheriff Joe’s Kool-Aid and get serious about real crime fighting, including immigration law enforcement.
The facts are in and flagrantly obvious — Harris and Gascón do it right and Arpaio does it his way.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.