Pen­zone works to re­di­rect MCSO, but some say progress too slow

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Me­gan Cas­sidy

The relics of Mari­copa County Sher­iff Paul Pen­zone’s pre­de­ces­sor are in­escapable: Civil-rights ac­tivists still take aim at the of­fice, and tax­pay­ers con­tinue to foot the ever-mount­ing bill for a racial-pro­fil­ing law­suit.

But in the past year, Pen­zone said, he’s worked to claw his of­fice out from un­der the shadow of Joe Ar­paio, the six­term sher­iff who be­came a na­tional celebrity for his flam­boy­ant poli­cies and hard-line stance on im­mi­gra­tion.

Jan. 4 marked the first an­niver­sary of Pen­zone’s swear­ing-in, which came two months af­ter he de­feated Ar­paio in the gen­eral elec­tion.

In an in­ter­view that day with The Ari­zona Repub­lic, the sher­iff cited both the vis­i­ble and the per­ceived changes he has made to the or­ga­ni­za­tion, while acknowledging Ar­paio’s con­tin­u­ing im­pact.

The of­fice re­leased a video, ti­tled “Then and Now,” that aims to un­der­score the con­trast be­tween the two sher­iffs. The video fea­tured the clos­ing of Tent City, Pen­zone’s en­gage­ment with the com­mu­nity and Ar­paio’s con­tempt-of-court case.

“We have to look at the past and see where we failed, so that we can de­ter­mine if we truly have had suc­cess,” Pen­zone said in the in­ter­view. “I think it’s im­por­tant that the com­mu­nity see the con­trast, so that they can see the work that is be­ing done.”

Some civil-rights ac­tivists, how­ever, say Pen­zone was slow in turn­ing around what they say is a cul­ture of racial bias at the Mari­copa County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice, which not only over­sees the county jails

but also serves as the po­lice agency for un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas and some smaller mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the county.

Ce­cil­lia Wang, a plain­tiffs’ at­tor­ney in a decade-old racial-pro­fil­ing case against the of­fice, called Pen­zone’s first year “rocky.” She said Pen­zone failed to ad­dress ma­jor, lin­ger­ing con­cerns re­gard­ing the MCSO’s in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions and race-re­lated traf­fic stops.

Wang, deputy le­gal di­rec­tor for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, was one of the at­tor­neys who helped Latino plain­tiffs win a land­mark vic­tory against the MCSO. In 2013, a fed­eral judge found that Ar­paio’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies vi­o­lated the rights of Lati­nos, and or­dered sweep­ing over­hauls to the agency’s poli­cies. A mon­i­tor was ap­pointed to over­see the com­pli­ance ef­forts, which are ex­pected to last for years to come.

Wang said while Pen­zone is “cer­tainly an im­prove­ment” from the Ar­paio ad­min­is­tra­tion, there were ini­tial missteps.

“It’s go­ing to be a long road,” she said. “Th­ese prob­lems, with the in­sti­tu­tional-level bias and the in­di­vid­ual-deputylevel bias, are things that are really go­ing to take a lot of work.”

Pen­zone ran his cam­paign — and won by dou­ble dig­its — on a prom­ise to turn the agency around. In his first days in of­fice, he made prom­ises to be more fis­cally re­spon­si­ble, to re­build bridges with the com­mu­nity and to put an end to the me­dia-hun­gry poli­cies of the past.

Here’s a roundup of what’s changed and what hasn’t in the past year, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views, agency state­ments and pre­vi­ous re­ports.

What’s changed

❚ Tent City shut down: Three months into the job, Pen­zone an­nounced he would be clos­ing Ar­paio’s in­fa­mous out­door jails. The jails for decades were crit­i­cized for in­hu­mane liv­ing con­di­tions, given Phoenix’s scorch­ing sum­mers, and more re­cently for re­main­ing open de­spite the nearly empty fa­cil­ity. The move, the agency said, will save $4.5 mil­lion an­nu­ally. The MCSO qui­etly shut­tered the jails in Oc­to­ber, and days later, Pen­zone an­nounced the space would be trans­formed into a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter. ❚ More com­pli­ance with court or­ders: In the first half of Pen­zone’s first year in of­fice, the MCSO’s com­pli­ance with the racial-pro­fil­ing court or­ders has risen by nearly 50 per­cent. Com­pli­ance in­cludes or­ders on train­ing, poli­cies and data-keep­ing aimed to stamp out dis­crim­i­na­tory polic­ing.

“We’re try­ing to over­come chal­lenges that went on for a quar­ter of a cen­tury,” Pen­zone said. “So, un­for­tu­nately, it will take some time, but I’m con­fi­dent that be­cause we’ve em­braced it and worked with the De­part­ment of Jus­tice and the ACLU and oth­ers, that the process is more stream­lined and fa­cil­i­tated in a pos­i­tive way.” ❚ No more black and white stripes: MCSO in­mates got a new look for fall. In Novem­ber, they be­gan don­ning new, or­ange jump­suits that re­placed the blackand-white-striped ones of Ar­paio’s era. Pen­zone at the time said the or­ange uni­forms will save 12 per­cent, or at least $22,000, each year. A uni­form color code saves money on laun­der­ing, and the stripes were more ex­pen­sive than or­ange jumpers, the agency said. The move fol­lowed a phase-out of the agency’s in­fa­mous pink un­der­wear, which be­gan in March. ❚ No more im­mi­gra­tion holds in jails: Af­ter barely a month in of­fice, Pen­zone an­nounced he would be end­ing the jails’ “cour­tesy holds” for fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion agents. Pre­vi­ously, the jail would hold in­mates for up to 48 hours be­yond when they other­wise would have been re­leased if an Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agent flagged them for de­por­ta­tion.

The move prompted out­cry on both sides of the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate. ICE of­fi­cials balked at be­ing re­moved from the jails com­pletely, say­ing it com­pli­cated their abil­ity to per­form their im­mi­gra­tion du­ties. Af­ter a few days, they were al­lowed back in, but only for trans­fer pur­poses. The MCSO still de­clined to hold in­di­vid­u­als for longer than they would have been in jail, cit­ing ad­vice from coun­sel.

Im­mi­gra­tion-rights ad­vo­cates have since ar­gued that Pen­zone should have gone fur­ther and re­moved ICE agents com­pletely. “Ar­paio may not be our sher­iff but Pen­zone has not made many changes that make a great im­pact in our com­mu­ni­ties,” ad­vo­cates from Puente said in a re­cent me­dia state­ment.

❚ Red car­pet: Pen­zone moved into the same down­town Phoenix of­fice that Ar­paio once oc­cu­pied, but there’s a no­table dif­fer­ence in the decor. What was once a red car­pet has been re­placed with a shade of brown.

For Pen­zone, the change was sym­bolic. “The red shag was flashy and out­dated,” he said. “I changed the car­pet to re­flect my per­son­al­ity: con­ser­va­tive and durable.”

In gen­eral, Pen­zone said, he’s worked to show­case the of­fice as a whole, rather than its sher­iff.

“I want to show and lead by ex­am­ple that I am not the fo­cal point,” he said. “The fo­cus is on the men and women who do the job.”

❚ Em­ployee morale? Pen­zone cited im­prov­ing em­ployee at­ti­tude and morale as one of his big­gest ac­com­plish­ments since his time in of­fice.

“I con­stantly hear that they feel more val­ued, they feel more em­pow­ered, they know that when they come to work ev­ery­one is a con­trib­u­tor,” he said.

Brad Ruehle, pres­i­dent of the Mari­copa County deputies’ union, said he felt the com­mu­nity’s re­spect for its deputies was high un­der both ad­min­is­tra­tions. He said most em­ploy­ees view Pen­zone as a leader who is proac­tive with mod­ern law-en­force­ment poli­cies.

As far as em­ployee morale, he said, some of the court’s or­ders have low­ered it slightly, but he doesn’t blame that on Pen­zone. The or­der now re­quires deputies to track their per­ceived race of the peo­ple they pull over for a traf­fic stop.

“It’s not long,” Ruehle said. “It just adds to the work­load.”

What hasn’t changed

❚ Tax­pay­ers con­tinue to foot racial-pro­fil­ing bill: This one’s not go­ing away any­time soon. By Au­gust, tax­pay­ers had poured about $70 mil­lion into the law­suit over the past decade, and that fig­ure is ex­pected to near $100 mil­lion by 2018. The costs in­clude at­tor­ney and mon­i­tor fees, salaries for em­ploy­ees de­voted to com­pli­ance, and train­ing and equip­ment.

To get out from the mon­i­tor’s over­sight, the agency must be in com­pli­ance with the court’s or­der for three con­sec­u­tive years. Given that the agency still isn’t in full com­pli­ance, Pen­zone gave an op­ti­mistic tar­get of four to five years be­fore com­plete agency in­de­pen­dence.

“But of­ten­times, it’s two steps for­ward and one step back,” he said. “We’re try­ing to over­come chal­lenges that went on for a quar­ter of a cen­tury.” ❚ In­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions: Wang said in­ter­nal-af­fairs in­ves­ti­ga­tions con­tinue to be a con­cern for plain­tiffs in the racial-pro­fil­ing case. A re­cent mon­i­tor re­port said the agency was miss­ing its statu­tory dead­line of 180 days for com­plet­ing its in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“That’s a big con­cern for us,” she said. “And I think that Sher­iff Pen­zone’s ad­min­is­tra­tion now, a year into it, has got to see that th­ese are very deep prob­lems.”

In gen­eral, a re­cent mon­i­tor’s re­port com­mended Pen­zone and his staff for “their per­sonal in­volve­ment in a myr­iad of is­sues that are cen­tral to this en­tire un­der­tak­ing.” ❚ Cul­ture of bias among deputies: In Septem­ber, Ari­zona State Univer­sity re­searchers re­leased a study that found MCSO deputies had con­tin­ued dis­crim­i­na­tory pa­trols for years af­ter a judge or­dered re­forms on the mat­ter. The study was con­ducted in 2015 and 2016 — be­fore Pen­zone took of­fice — but plain­tiffs’ at­tor­neys say Pen­zone has been slow to en­act change.

In Septem­ber, Pen­zone’s at­tor­neys and plain­tiffs’ at­tor­neys from the ACLU agreed on goals such as an early-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem to flag prob­lem­atic deputies.

“The fun­da­men­tal prob­lem is that the data shows that racially bi­ased polic­ing con­tin­ues to be a prob­lem, and we haven’t seen an ef­fec­tive re­sponse from MCSO to up­root the racially bi­ased polic­ing,” Wang said. “We have more and more con­cerns from the lack of in­ter­nal ac­count­abil­ity.”

Wang cited a mo­tion filed by Pen­zone’s at­tor­neys in June, which would have re­lieved the of­fice of cer­tain re­quire­ments per­tain­ing to its com­mu­nity meet­ings.

“You can’t turn (the agency) on a dime and change it overnight,” Wang said. “He sought ac­tions to try to seek re­lief from all the court com­pli­ance mea­sures, when he should really be dig­ging in.”

“The fo­cus is on the men and women who do the job.” Paul Pen­zone, Mari­copa County sher­iff, on his ap­proach


Mari­copa County Sher­iff Paul Pen­zone is draw­ing con­trasts be­tween him­self and his pre­de­ces­sor, Joe Ar­paio.


Mari­copa County Sher­iff Paul Pen­zone speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Oct. 17 at the former Tent City site in Phoenix. The jails there have been shut­tered, and the site is be­ing turned into a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter.


A news­pa­per an­nounc­ing the par­don of former Sher­iff Joe Ar­paio hangs on the wall as Ar­paio speaks Wed­nes­day in his Foun­tain Hills of­fice.

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