The race for sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona appears to be on course for a showdown between incumbent Joe Arpaio and Democratic challenger Paul Penzone in the general election on November 6, 2012.
Sheriff Arpaio has come under scrutiny the past few years for a variety of allegations including civil rights violations, serious neglect of criminal investigations, abuses of power and malicious prosecutions against his political enemies. Despite all the negativity, Arpaio has successfully added tens of thousands of dollars into his campaign war chest – albeit mostly from out of state political donors.
However, Paul Penzone seems to be a legitimate challenger for Arpaio and has gathered the support of the Democratic Party and many law enforcement officials throughout Arizona. Penzone was recently interviewed about his quest to become the next Maricopa County Sheriff. Here are some of his responses.
Q. Why are you running for Maricopa County Sheriff?
A. I spent 21 years in law enforcement with the Phoenix Police Department working in a variety of different capacities from undercover narcotics to administration working on budgets and capital improvements. Throughout my career I learned to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars. I managed major investigations and big police operations. I finished my career running Silent Witness dealing with the most high-profile cases in Arizona. This required collaboration with law enforcement, business leaders and public officials. My experience and scope were very broad and I eventually became vice president of a national non-profit with a presence across the country.
But, at the same time I am humble enough to look at myself and see if there are ways to improve. To look at the best practices and see how I can work with my peers or business leaders or community leaders to find a more holistic way to serve the community at large. You should be a person who is a man of the people and not expect the people to serve you – and that’s what we see right now in the sheriff’s office and that’s all going to change.
I am a strong leader; committed to doing what I know is right and holding the line with it. I am proud of law enforcement in Arizona. But, I saw an individual misrepresent what it means to be a “self-less servant” serving our community. I believe you have a choice – you can sit back and watch it occur, or you can take on the fight because it’s meaningful and try to make changes for the better. I felt it was time for me as a person to address this issue and be there to make a difference.
Q. If elected sheriff what will be your top three priorities?
A. First, build an organization that is focused on restoring trust and confidence with the community at large. Second, re-focus our primary responsibility to ensure we are the best at running detention centers and providing patrol and investigation services to the unincorporated areas and those under contract. And third, to be an organization that invests in positive things that build a healthy community in addition to being very good at public safety.
Q. Sheriff Arpaio has accumulated substantial campaign contributions. What impact does this have on the campaign?
A. Money can’t change history. Joe Arpaio will be judged on his failures. He can use his money to try to misrepresent who I am or my career or try to negatively influence voters. The job of our campaign is to raise enough money to define ourselves so when voters walk into the booth they know who Paul Penzone is, and have been educated on my experience and what I stand for. So, regardless of how much money he (Arpaio) has, the voters can make an educated decision.
Q. According to a recent article in AZCENTRAL, the sheriff’s office defended itself in a civil lawsuit by claiming there is a “disconnect” between Joe Arpaio and the operations within his organization. How would you respond to that?
A. I believe it’s critical that the leader is responsible for every aspect of what goes on in their organization. I don’t think it’s realistic that you’ll know every decision that’s made, but you are accountable who you pick to act on your behalf at the executive levels. It is their responsibility to keep you apprised of all challenges or concerns.
I find it cowardly and inexcusable that a sheriff who tries to tout himself with a moniker of “toughness” then hides behind ‘disconnect’ when he is challenged with failures and has to answer for those failures. He must have been aware of all these things because they’ve been in the public view for so long. Unless you were living in a cave there’s no way you can say you were unaware. He was just unwilling to take responsibility and address it because of poor leadership. He is not a leader; he has become a public image and there is a big difference.
Q. Critics of Joe Arpaio say tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on payouts and settlements on lawsuits for civil rights violations, excessive force and other alleged abuses. What are your thoughts on this issue?
A. It is in such excess that it’s numbing. And it all goes to the fact that his organization forgot what it means to be dedicated and committed to the community it serves. The failures are abuse; the failures are poor practices; the failures are defiance. And the leader has an obligation to correct them. It’s a high-liability industry and a very difficult career. There will be mistakes; but, how you respond to those mistakes and how you minimize them defines the quality of your service.
Every dollar that’s wasted undermines the ability of an organization to keep their community safe. Whether its boots on the street, resources, tools or whatever, if you lose those dollars, you lose those resources.
Q. What is your position on illegal immigration enforcement at the local level?
A. My focus is going to be on organizations that are responsible for human trafficking, drug smuggling and human slavery. That’s where the crime is committed, and poses a greater threat to the safety of our community. I will not be doing raids with considerable amounts of resources and excessive force to round up laborers. I’ll work with businesses and hold individuals accountable as defined by the federal government while working with I.C.E. But, I will not waste resources in areas that don’t improve the level of safety. Professional law enforcement should focus on organizations that are responsible for crime and not individuals who are trying to pursue labor opportunities or citizenship.
Q. Joe Arpaio seems to be popular among some segments of the community but has very little support by local police chiefs. What is your take on that?
A. One of his (Arpaio’s) greatest failures, in addition to undermining the public safety, has been failing to collaborate with his peers. Maricopa County is broken up into many municipal law enforcement agencies. The sheriff’s office should be the glue. They shouldn’t be focused on getting attention all the time. They should be focused on facilitating success for other agencies and lending support to their needs so everyone is safe. That’s the relationship I will re-build. I will be a leader who supports their needs to help them do their job better so our community benefits from it.