Bill Richardson: Arizona Revised Statutes 11-441 says the "powers and duties" of the sheriff are to arrest all persons who commit a public offense and serve process and notices in the manner prescribed by law.
"Wanted felons often continue to commit serious crimes until captured."
U.S. Marshal for Arizona
Arizona Revised Statutes 11-441 says the "powers and duties" of the sheriff are to arrest all persons who commit a public offense and serve process and notices in the manner prescribed by law.
Lawyers and sheriff's deputies tell me serving "process and notices" means serving felony arrest warrants. In every county except Maricopa, sheriffs know their duty and do it, and the threat to citizens created by wanted felons is lessened by them doing so.
On Sunday, the Tribune's Ryan Gabrielson reported in the story "Warrant backlog puts MCSO on hot seat" that "Maricopa County is home to 3.9 million people and about 39,000 active felony warrants. Pima County has more than a million residents but just 2,800 known fugitives."
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has steadfastly maintained it's not his job to serve the county's felony warrants like Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik and other Arizona sheriffs do without equivocation.
Many of Maricopa County's wanted felons are members of Arizona's estimated population of 30,000 street and prison gangsters who belong to organized crime groups that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, have ties to Mexican drug cartels. The Justice Department estimates 80 percent of our crime is committed by organized crime.
In March, Congressional Quarterly reported Arizona is the United States' eighth-most dangerous state. During 2007 three police officers in Maricopa County were murdered by wanted felons. No other county in our state has that degrading distinction.
On April 20, 2007, I wrote, "45,000 of the outstanding warrants issued by the Maricopa County Superior Court" are for felony crimes including murder, rape, other violent crimes, and drunken driving.
In my May 23, 2008, column I wrote, "There are 42,482 outstanding Maricopa County arrest warrants; 1,187 for rape and aggravated assault, 121 for kidnapping, 151 for robbery and 194 for murder. More than 1 percent of the county's population is wanted felons."
During a March 23 hearing before the Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee on the wanted felon problem, Deputy Chief Paul Chagolla testified there is no warrant crisis in Maricopa County.
However, Chagolla also told the committee that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office would serve warrants if the Legislature gave that agency money.
According to Gabrielson's story, San Diego County, population 3 million, has only 3,151 outstanding felony warrants. The San Diego County Sheriff, like Dupnik, assigns deputies to the U.S. Marshal's Fugitive Strike Force. MCSO has refused to join a similar federal strike force in Arizona. Arpaio has 160 officers with federal 287(g) powers assigned to immigration duties, but none serving warrants.
Arpaio has also refused to join the Fugitive Coordination Committee that started with the Mesa Police Department and now includes all other stakeholders in the county with an interest in solving the warrant crisis. This project receives no special legislative funding.
On March 24, a Phoenix newspaper reported that during the state Senate hearing, Republicans defended Arpaio's performance by saying his immigration efforts resulted in lower crime. But according to the FBI and MCSO, in 2004 there were 6,971 serious crimes in areas under Arpaio's sole jurisdiction. By 2008, that number jumped to 10,168. MCSO's homicide solution rate has dropped from 62 percent in 2004 to 38 percent in 2008. The sheriff jumped on the immigration bandwagon in 2005.
San Diego and Pima County, along with Phoenix and Mesa, which also participate in the local fugitive strike force, have seen significant drops in serious crime.
Even with Arpaio's dismal track record, the Legislature still wants to throw cash at him. But lawmakers won't fund urgently needed statewide law enforcement services like an information sharing system and an intelligence-driven policing strategy. The state crime lab is teetering on financial uncertainty. And this week it was reported Arpaio spent tax dollars on his reality TV show.
Tax dollars should go to law enforcement professionals who do their sworn duty and track down wanted felons.
If the folks at the state Capitol are serious about crime, they need to get past the fantasy that Arpaio's immigration antics will save the eighth-most dangerous state and kidnapping capital from crime and wanted felons.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.