Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., which includes Phoenix and its sprawling surroundings, is an aggressive self-promoter with a new claim to fame: a reality show on Fox called “Smile … You’re Under Arrest!” It’s a “Candid Camera” for crooks, with actors luring fugitives into compromising situations, for laughs.
It’s easy to snicker at the sight of a publicity-addicted law-enforcement official wallowing with the dregs of reality TV, sharing a channel with shows like “My Bare Lady,” “The Glutton Bowl” and “World Famous for Dicking Around.”
But Sheriff Arpaio is armed and dangerous. He is a genuine public menace with a long and well-documented trail of inmate abuses, unjustified arrests, racial profiling, brutal and inept policing and wasteful spending.
For years he has won fawning press coverage by playing the role of “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” But now another side of the story — that is, the truth — is leaking out.
The latest example is a report released this month that sums up, in devastating detail, the cost of Sheriff Arpaio’s reign. It was issued not by the sheriff’s usual critics — whom he routinely dismisses as a band of bleeding-hearts — but by the Goldwater Institute, a think tank dedicated to the principles of the late Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, an obelisk of conservatism.
Here’s the gist.
What has risen on Sheriff Arpaio’s watch: violent crimes (up 69 percent overall from 2004 to 2007, with homicides up 166 percent in those three years), 911 response times, unserved arrest warrants, racist sweeps of Latino neighborhoods, and dollars paid out in budget overruns, overtime and lawsuit settlements.
What has declined: the arrest rate, the number of satellite booking stations, public access to department records, Sheriff Arpaio’s reputation.
The Goldwater report must bring some comfort to the residents of Maricopa County who have spent years raising the alarm about Sheriff Arpaio, with little effect outside Arizona.
They include a Web site, barriozona.com, that has tracked the sheriff’s terrorizing sweeps through Latino neighborhoods, and a dogged reporter, Stephen Lemons of The Phoenix New Times, who keeps the heat on Sheriff Arpaio in his blog. Mr. Lemons recently posted some chilling video from a public meeting of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, where Sheriff Arpaio’s deputies arrested citizens … for clapping.
Sheriff Arpaio was elected to a fifth term in November and is riding high, at least in the worlds of bad policing and jackass television.
But pride, they say, goes before a fall. Here’s hoping!