Arpaio in Context

The problematic nature of Arpaio's tenure goes beyond just his contempt charge.

Joe_ArpaioIf one is unfamiliar with Joe Arpaio’s tenure as Maricopa County Sheriff, I would recommend the following from a 2008 edition of the Goldwater Institute’s Policy Report:  Mission Unaccomplished:  The Misplaced Priorities of the Maricopa County Sheriff ‘s Office.  A clear pattern is indicated in this report:  a man far more focused on immigration enforcement as he saw than on his actual duties.  The misuse of resources, and the lack of attention to actual crimes in Maricopa County should disturb principled conservatives who are concerned with law enforcement and fiscal responsibility.

I would note the enforcing federal immigration laws is not within his actual legal purview as a county sheriff, where his mission was to enforce the laws of the State of Arizona (this is federalism 101 for those keeping score at home).

An illustration of misuse of resources:  a strange obsession with Honduras:

Another diversion of resources away from direct law-enforcement activities is MCSO’s repeated and curious deployment of deputies to Honduras.


In December 2007, MCSO received permission to use $264,450 from the Arizona Department of Homeland Security to expand its facial recognition program. Sheriff Arpaio claims he has received “millions of photos” from Honduras, though Honduras Secretary of Security Jorge Rodas told 12 News they have sent no photos to MCSO. Regardless, it is not clear why those photos are noteworthy, or what the exact nature of the relationship is between Honduras and MCSO.

MCSO also defends the program on grounds that it will help to prevent the spread of a violent gang called MS-13. But the U.S. Department of Justice says that the gang, which originated in California, is mainly associated with El Salvadorans, not Hondurans; and the Arizona Department of Public Safety has seen no evidence of MS-13 activity in Arizona. An ICE official told 12 News that Hondurans do not play a significant role in organized crime in Arizona.

So, not only are significant funds being expended on an activity that one would not expect from a county level law enforcement agency, they were focused on the wrong country.

As a side note, obsession with MS-13 is a staple of the Trump administration as well.

The piece concludes:

The Maricopa County Sheriff ‘s Office falls seriously short in all three of the core components of its mission as MCSO defines it. Over the past several years, MCSO has lost sight of its most essential priorities. Th e escalating rates of violent crimes in its jurisdiction coupled with diversion of resources to less important priorities, less-effective law-enforcement tactics, or to jurisdictions that have their own police departments, indicates it is not “the leader in establishing the standards for providing professional quality law enforcement.” Its failure to assume leadership in reducing the huge backlog of outstanding warrants and its closure of satellite booking centers means that it is not effectively providing essential law-enforcement support services. Its detention of criminal suspects and convicted criminals has been the subject of successful and expensive legal verdicts and settlements, of investigations by the federal government, and of revocation of accreditation. Its records are inadequate and opaque rather than transparent.

On the fiscal front, note the following:

Via the Arizona RepublicMaricopa County infighting, lawsuits cost taxpayers $44.4 million

The costly political warfare began when the Board of Supervisors voted to cut the sheriff’s and county attorney’s budgets in 2008 amid worsening economic conditions.

Arpaio and Thomas viewed the cuts as politically motivated restrictions on their power as elected officials, and they responded with what they considered government-corruption investigations. They opened investigations and filed criminal charges and federal racketeering lawsuits against county supervisors and administrators, as well as judges involved in some of the cases.

A series of defensive legal battles ensued. For example, the supervisors took civil-litigation duties away from Thomas and created separate civil-division departments. Arpaio filed a suit against the supervisors claiming they took away his authority over the county’s criminal-justice computer system.

By March 2010, all the charges and the racketeering suits had been dismissed. Then, 10 of the targets sued Arpaio, Thomas and their deputies, triggering millions of dollars in legal costs as Maricopa County defended itself, its agencies, other elected officials and employees named in those lawsuits.

And:  Taxpayer tab up to $70M in Joe Arpaio racial-profiling case

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio may soon be pardoned for a criminal-contempt conviction stemming from a long-running racial-profiling case, but county taxpayers are still on the hook, now to the tune of nearly $70 million.

About $24 million has been funneled to case-related expenses this year alone, adding to the $46 million incurred since 2008. Costs will continue to mount for the foreseeable future.

Of course, his mismanagement of his department and the money he continues to cost taxpayers pales in comparison his long string of human rights abuses during his tenure in office.  I would also recommend clicking through to the tweetstorm of stories that start with this tweet:

There are simply too many stories to link them all here.

See, also:

The ACLU:  Five Reasons Racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio Should Not Receive a Presidential Pardon

From a profile in Rolling Stone:  The Long, Lawless Ride of Sheriff Joe Arpaio

A host of stories at Reason: click.


FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Crime, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. michael reynolds says:

    For Trump this is a three-fer: enrage the Left, excite the Nazis and signal Flynn and Manafort to expect a pardon. It was inevitable. Trump doesn’t do self-control, he is an entirely instinct-driven guy. You might as well put a plate of hamburger in front of a Labrador Retriever and expect it not to eat.

    It takes on another aspect as well as a counter to the Gorka firing. Trump is too weak to resist Kelly’s purge directly so he pacifies his Nazi supporters in the most dickless way possible. As usual.

    Trump really is the Sum of All Vices: pride, vanity, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony and lust. Which he complements with a complete absence of virtue.

  2. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Agree. I also think that the Arpaio pardon, coming when it did, was granted to balance out the Gorka firing. Save one while the other is being tossed to the wolves.

  3. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    “…should disturb principled conservatives…”

    (With apologies to Ronald Reagan) There you go again…I’m too cynical anymore to believe that there are any “principled conservatives” left. I’d like to believe that there are, and I’d like to believe that they are a majority of the movement, but the harsh reality is that principled people don’t vote for Donald Trump no matter who the alternative is and this should be especially true in areas where conservatives supposedly control the majority–ahem the red states.

    Maybe in 2008, there were still principled conservatives. I don’t know. Not seein’ it now. Hope to see it again someday, but I’m not optimistic. Maybe the people who point back to the early days of the National Review are right and there never were any.

  4. Brian Penny says:

    I was held in contempt of court in Tent City twice while Joe Arpaio was on trial. He was found but never held and got a pardon. Meanwhile, I had to defend myself without a lawyer and was arrested in court. Guess I’m not rich nor racist enough for a pardon, but I was good enough to get on the cover of High Times over it…

  5. CET says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    While I think it’s important to keep in mind that politics often requires choosing the least bad options, I agree that there are very few people left in politics (or, sadly, in the electorate at large) who can claim to be principled conservatives at this point. The fact that there is some resistance to Trump from within the party is encouraging. Even if it’s no more than a token of the revolt that I would like to see, it’s better than the abject surrender I was expecting…

    There are a non-trivial number of us who still like to think of ourselves as conservatives. I think it’s worth continuing to point out inconsistencies between what the GOP base supports and what they should support based on what many of them claim to believe. In dealing with the ideological cancer that has taken hold of the right, every little bit of cognitive dissonance helps.

  6. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    Some more context to be considered:

    1) Arpaio’s pardon wasn’t in exchange for case, as in the 2000 case of Marc Rich.

    2) Arpaio’s pardon wasn’t in exchange for votes for the US Senate, as in the 2000 case of the Rockland rabbis.

    3) Arpaio’s pardon was not that of an unrepentant domestic terrorist, as in the 2017 pardon of Oscar Lopez Rivera.

    4) Arpaio’s pardon wasn’t done as a lame duck, as in the cases above and many others.

  7. @Bob The Arqubusier: Yeah, what about those other pardons?

    Let’s talk about those instead of examining Arpaio’s record and what it says about this pardon.

    So, what about those others?

  8. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yeah, let’s talk about Arpaio’s actions.

    Just the ones he was pardoned for. None of the other things he did or was alleged to have done, just the ones covered by the pardon.

    Or do you want to just selectively choose the context, so it favors your biases?

    Google hits for “Oscar Lopez Rivera:” 1 result, from a comment.

    Google hits for “Arpaio:” 813 results.

    Arizona’s about halfway between Texas (getting devastated by a hurricane) and Berkeley (where black-clad, masked “antifascists” overran police to beat the living crap out of right-wing protesters). Too bad the Arpaio story is so huge that it rates 4 separate stories, crowding out these lesser events.

  9. @Bob The Arqubusier: What about those other stories?

  10. And this post isn’t about just the actions he was pardoned for, so what about just the ones he was pardoned for?

  11. CET says:

    @Bob The Arqubusier:

    Ok, let’s talk about them:

    The first two are pretty typical Clintonland shenanigans: Corrupt (and unnecessarily so, given that the Clintons needed neither the cash nor the votes), but of relatively small impact. There’s a reason I loathe the Clintons.

    The Rivera pardon is not the decision I would have made, but I think it’s defensible provided that the man himself remains under surveillance. He’s already served more time than a lot of people convicted of more serious crimes, and the available evidence indicates that he’s more of an iconolast than a serious terrorist.

    On the other hand, I think ‘unrepentent domestic terrorist’ is also a pretty good description of Arpaio, who served no time, and gives every indication of going right back to doing his best to persecute minorities and destabilize the republic.