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Sanctuary County

July 08, 2008 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Here in Washington, restrictionist members of Congress use the term “sanctuary” to describe a city or town that restricts its law enforcement agency from going after undocumented immigrants unless those immigrants have committed some real crime that might threaten public safety. 

In the past couple of months, however, politicians in the state of Arizona have become concerned that Maricopa County, Arizona, is becoming a sanctuary of another sort.  That county is under the jurisdiction of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has gained national notoriety for his high-profile sweeps of immigrant communities and roundups of undocumented immigrants. 

While he and his men have concentrated on undocumented immigrants who are working here without permission, a backlog of tens of thousands of unserved felony warrants has built up under his watch. 

The Arizona Republic noted in an editorial last Thursday (July 3) that not only is Arpiao not acting against the worst of the threats to the county’s citizens, but he is causing other police agencies in the country to divert their resources as well.  The Sheriff recently staged sweeps in Mesa, Arizona, dubbed “Operation Ghost.”

Arpaio’s “Operation Ghost” was well-named because it will likely produce phantom results. His previous “sweeps” around the Valley did not subsequently lower the crime rate in those areas, according to an analysis of police records done by The Republic. 

But Operation Ghost did result in some very real costs for Mesa, where Police Chief George Gascón had to deploy about 130 officers the first day of Arpaio’s sweep and about 70 the second day. He felt they were needed to keep the peace among the different groups of protesters attracted to Arpaio’s shows.

Some regular police work probably had to wait while Mesa cops watched over the sheriff’s sweep. “Stop Wasting Funds,” Arizona Republic, July 3, 2008

While Sheriff Joe and his boys have been rounding up undocumented workers, 40,000 felons have been free to walk the streets.  In a perverse way, it makes sense.  There is little chance that the busboys, landscapers and maids who are the targets of the Maricopa County Sheriff will be shooting back.  The drug dealers, robbers, murderers, and other felons, on the other hand?  Well, hey, they could be dangerous.  Best leave them to some other agency.

The governor has not been impressed, and she has recently shifted some state funding away from the Sheriff’s office to other agencies more willing to carry out the job of keeping county residents safe.

It is traditionally the county sheriff’s job to go after folks with outstanding warrants. But Arpaio neglected that duty so completely that Gov. Janet Napolitano pulled $1.6 million in funding from the Sheriff’s Office and gave it to a state-led fugitive task force, instead.

Other agencies simply do a better job. “Stop Wasting Funds,” Arizona Republic, July 3, 2008

At a time when Arizona’s economy is slowing, the state simply cannot afford to waste its law enforcement dollars on media celebrity at the expense of public safety.

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