There's a new tough-talking sheriff in Arizona - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

There's a new tough-talking sheriff in Arizona

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net.

Posted: Friday, May 28, 2010 3:00 am

Since 1993 Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been perfecting the “Sheriff Joe Show.” Arpaio has become “the man” when it comes to braggadocios law enforcement tough talk.

The show started out small, like a locally produced Saturday morning kid’s show. But Arpaio’s in-house media and public relations staff were constantly on the alert for any story that could be marketed to cultivate Arpaio’s celebrity status.

Soon the retired federal drug agent, who was best known in law enforcement circles as “Nickel Bag Joe” for his penchant for small-time drug busts, morphed into “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”

Even though Arpaio was still fixated on petty busts, his made-for-TV roundups were great footage on the six o’clock news and talk shows.

While many thought Arpaio was amusing and entertaining, others saw what was happening as a possible abuse of power. For months it has been reported the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a federal grand jury have been looking into the activities of Arpaio and his inner circle.

Could the “Sheriff Joe Show” be forced into re-runs if the feds keep the star of the show from making his curtain call?

Don’t worry. There’s another tough-talking sheriff who’s already warming up and quickly moving into position to fill Joe’s prime-time slot. And he isn’t even waiting for the show to be cancelled.

Welcome to the “Sheriff Paul Show.”

Former Chandler police patrolman Paul Babeu, who became Pinal County Sheriff just 17 months ago, is fast becoming the new favorite Arizona sheriff on local and national media outlets.

Arpaio’s growling, tired old mug and rumpled suit are quickly being replaced by the exquisitely uniformed and charismatic Babeu, who has a quick wit and charming smile. Babeu charms crowds like a snake oil salesman who’s studied his audience and knows exactly what words to say.

Babeu is the younger, kinder and gentler version of the old tough-talking sheriff. What Babeu, the president of the Arizona Sheriff’s Association, has done on his own in just over a year took Arpaio and his rock star-like entourage well over a decade to create and put into play.

To get elected, Sheriff Paul created his own hot-button campaign issue. Babeu promised to dump photo radar and he did. After his election he jumped on Sheriff Joe’s signature issue, immigration enforcement. Then he took the issue one humongous giant step beyond what Arpaio had accomplished or maybe even imagined. He joined forces with Sen. John McCain. Babeu and McCain walked side-by-side along the U.S.-Mexico border in one of McCain’s re-election commercials, talking about border crime and building the “dang fence.” Babeu was catapulted into place to become the go-to border crime and immigration expert for news and talk shows and powerful politicians. And Pinal County isn’t even on the border.

Now instead of constantly seeing Arpaio all over the TV, it’s Babeu who has taken center stage. And the politically ambitious Babeu — a Massachusetts transplant who only got to Arizona in 2003 — doesn’t seem to have any qualms about upstaging Arpaio, whom he calls a “very good friend,” as he becomes the new face of Arizona sheriffs.

Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net

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