Joe Arpaio is tough on prisoners and undocumented immigrants. What about crime?
Arpaio wasn’t eloquent, but he spoke in short, quotable bursts, and he pummelled opponents with gusto. He promised to crack down on crime and to serve only one term. He won the Republican primary, which is traditionally all one needs in Maricopa.
.. The voters had declined to finance new jail construction, and so, in 1993, Arpaio, vowing that no troublemakers would be released on his watch because of overcrowding, procured a consignment of Army-surplus tents and had them set up, surrounded by barbed wire, in an industrial area in southwest Phoenix. “I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant,” he told me. Phoenix is an open-air blast furnace for much of the year. Temperatures inside the tents hit a hundred and thirty-five degrees. Still, the tents were a hit with the public, or at least with the conservative majority that voted. Arpaio put up more tents, until Tent City jail held twenty-five hundred inmates, and he stuck a neon “vacancy” sign on a tall guard tower. It was visible for miles.
.. Arpaio estimated that he saved taxpayers thirty thousand dollars a year by removing salt and pepper. Meals were cut to two a day, and Arpaio got the cost down, he says, to thirty cents per meal. “It costs more to feed the dogs than it does the inmates,” he told me.
.. He limits their television, he told me, to the Weather Channel, C-span, and, just to aggravate their hunger, the Food Network.
.. Why the Weather Channel, a British reporter once asked. “So these morons will know how hot it’s going to be while they are working on my chain gangs.”
.. New ideas for the humiliation of people in custody—whom the Sheriff calls, with persuasive disgust, “criminals,” although most are actually awaiting trial, not convicted of any crime—kept occurring to him.
.. The chain gangs’ tasks include burying the indigent at the county cemetery, but mainly they serve as spectacles in Arpaio’s theatre of cruelty. “I put them out there on the main streets,” he told me. “So everybody sees them out there cleaning up trash, and parents say to their kids, ‘Look, that’s where you’re going if you’re not good.’ “ The law-and-order public loved it, and the Sheriff’s fame spread.
.. He decreed that all of his inmates—there are now roughly ten thousand of them, double the number when he took office—must wear pink underwear.
.. But the Sheriff has never acknowledged any wrongdoing in his jails, never apologized to victims or their families. In fact, many of the officers involved have been promoted.
.. Remarkably, Arpaio has paid almost no political price for running jails that are so patently dangerous and inadvertently expensive. Indeed, until recently there were few local or state politicians willing to criticize him publicly. Those who have, including members of the county board of supervisors, which controls his budget, tend to find themselves under investigation by the sheriff’s office.
.. When the paper revealed that it had received an impossibly broad subpoena, demanding, among other things, the Internet records of all visitors to its Web site in the previous two and a half years, sheriff’s deputies staged late-night raids on the homes of Michael Lacey and James Larkin, executives of Village Voice Media, which owns the New Times. The deputies arrested both men for, they said, violating grand-jury secrecy. (The county attorney declined to prosecute, and it turned out that the subpoenas were issued unlawfully.)
.. Outspoken citizens also take their chances. Last December, remarks critical of Arpaio were offered during the public-comment period at a board of supervisors meeting, and four members of the audience were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct—for clapping.
.. Arizona is also full of retirees from the Midwest and the Northeast—Sun City is in Maricopa County—and these elderly Americans are, by and large, not completely delighted to find themselves among folk, mostly poor and brown, who don’t speak English. The state is home to an array of nativist groups
.. In the world according to Sheriff Joe, almost every problem in America these days can somehow be traced back to “illegals.”
.. The public-health specialist said gently, “Surgical masks do nothing to combat this virus.”
Arpaio erupted. “This is my press release! I’m the sheriff! I have some knowledge! I’m not just some little old sheriff!”
.. Arpaio, with his inhuman energy, had probably escorted hundreds of camera crews and reporters through his beloved tent jail. Many had been appalled, and produced unflattering stories. Plenty of others had simply served up the Toughest Sheriff shtick with relish
.. Gascón, who was an assistant police chief in Los Angeles before taking the Mesa job, three years ago, has had great success in crime reduction in Mesa, using the CompStat crime-mapping model, developed by William Bratton in New York and Los Angeles. But his first challenge in Mesa, he told me, had been to gain the trust of minority communities, particularly Latinos. “They need to believe that you’re ethical and honest, that you’re not the enemy,”
.. In Los Angeles, he had seen what happened when that trust was broken by corrupt officers.
.. The plan was to raid the Mesa city hall and the public library, to look for undocumented janitors who, according to the sheriff’s office, were suspected of identification theft. Gascón was not notified beforehand. (Arpaio claims that he did inform someone at Mesa police headquarters about the raid.) A Mesa police officer spotted a large group of heavily armed men in flak jackets gathering silently in a downtown park. Gascón, when I asked about the episode, took a deep breath. “It was a very, very dangerous scenario,” he said. “In my entire law-enforcement career, I have never heard of anything close to this.” His officers managed to identify the armed men, but then had trouble getting a straight story from them. The raid eventually went forward, monitored by the Mesa police, and resulted in the arrests of three middle-aged cleaning women.
.. But Janet Napolitano, President Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security, has a history with Arpaio. She was the U.S. Attorney for Arizona when conditions in Arpaio’s jails were first investigated by the Justice Department, in the mid-nineteen-nineties. Her performance then was memorably weak. Despite receiving a devastating federal report on brutality inside the jails, she held a friendly press conference with Arpaio in which she announced the settlement of the case against him and, according to the Arizona Republic, passed the time “trading compliments with the sheriff.”
.. Then, when she ran for governor in 2002, Arpaio returned the favor by crossing party lines—Napolitano is a Democrat—and making a last-minute campaign commercial for her that, by all accounts, helped her eke out a victory,
America, Pearce often says, has been “invaded,” and the Fifth Column that abets this invasion is, he told me, an unusual alliance of “big business, folks with thick checkbooks on K Street, the corporate oligarchy,” and “anarchists and seditionists.”
.. There is also the awkward fact that Arpaio came late to the issue of illegal immigration. Indeed, he for many years publicly assumed the same attitude toward immigration-law enforcement that most local police chiefs do: more serious crimes deserve precedence.
.. “Arpaio was not like this before,” she told me. “He was flamboyant. But I don’t know this guy.”
For Wilcox, the last straw came this February, when Arpaio marched more than two hundred undocumented immigrants, shackled together, to a new tent jail, parading them before news cameras. Arpaio had staged prisoner marches before. In 2005, he forced nearly seven hundred prisoners, wearing nothing but pink underwear and flip-flops, to shuffle four blocks through the Arizona heat, pink-handcuffed together, to a new jail. When they arrived, one prisoner was made to cut a pink ribbon for the cameras. This elaborate degradation, which is remembered fondly by Sheriff Joe’s fans, was ostensibly in the name of security—the men were strip-searched both before and after the march. But Arpaio also told reporters, “I put them on the street so everybody could see them.” He marched another nine hundred this April.
.. “It’s like a big joke to him,” she said. “He has no idea the harm he’s doing—to children, families, communities.”
.. Arpaio seemed jealous. “The Republic did a poll last week, ‘Who’s your hero?,’ and I beat out Tillman,” he said. He meant Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals football star who joined the Army Rangers and was killed in Afghanistan. “I beat out all these guys. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying.”
.. “Every time he goes to the tents, it’s like a rock concert. Everybody wants his autograph. They’ll have him sign toilet paper, anything.”
.. The two-day raid netted only nine suspected illegal immigrants, but reportedly produced a high volume of traffic tickets, including charges for “improper use of horn.” Jiménez noted that the raid came in the middle of an election campaign. “He used our community to get media attention,” she said.