A YEAR IN THE SHADOW OF SHERIFF JOE
Penzone works to redirect MCSO, but some say progress too slow
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.
❚ 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.