Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio Tells All!
THERE MAY BE no one in America who riles the ACLU more than Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose aim in life seems to be to deputize every law-abiding citizen of the Phoenix area in order to round up every last one of its lawbreakers.
Phil Donahue doesn't much like the zealous cop, either. When Arpaio built tent cities for his charges when the jails filled up, as they quickly did after he entered office, Donahue was there to accuse him of being "something out of the 17th century." When Arpaio put Maricopa County prisoners to work on chain gangs, feeding them a regimen of green-baloney sandwiches, Donahue revised his opinion. Arpaio, he said, was "something out of Dickens."
Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, bellows his approval every time Arpaio tightens the screws. In fact, as Arpaio is proud to point out, Limbaugh calls him "an American hero."
From these data you may form your own opinion of the sheriff, a poster boy of hard-line law-and-order types, anathema to liberals. You can also read his new book America's Toughest Sheriff (Summit, $22.95), which will probably confirm whatever opinion you may already have of the gung-ho lawman.
Crime, Arpaio says, is America's number-one problem, "and anyone who stands up and actually does something about it is going to make news." Making news is what Arpaio is about, and although he professes not to like the media much, Arpaio has mastered the on-camera swagger and sound bite as well as any public official in the state.
He is also indisputably devoted to crushing crime in the Valley of the Sun, and his book, for all its self-serving bluster, is full of useful reflections on why America is such a dangerous place these days. Arpaio has crime figured out: "The reason is as simple as it is chilling," he says, "and the reason is the collapse of the American family." In that spirit, Arpaio proclaims himself an equal-opportunity crimefighter, as keen on busting deadbeat parents as he is on running in crack dealers and gangbangers.
"We cannot sit back and wait for the 'experts' to arrive at neat solutions," he continues. "The real solutions are going to be more difficult and, to be blunt, dirtier than that."
Arpaio has developed a few blunt solutions of his own, field-tested on the streets of Maricopa County--which, he points out several times, is the size of New Jersey. The seventh-largest city in the country, Phoenix now boasts the fourth-largest prison population, thanks in large measure to Arpaio's zeal.
He's got his answers. The drug problem? Bust every dealer you can find, try to straighten out the users, cut off aid to any foreign country that supplies drugs for the American market. (Arpaio spent 30 years in federal narcotics enforcement, the reminiscences of which take up much of America's Toughest Sheriff.) The graffiti problem? Stop calling spray-painters "taggers," brand them as common criminals, and bust them hard for destruction of property.
And as for the ones already in jail, remove coddling privileges like television and weightlifting, coffee and cigarettes, and make prisoners rue the day they ever landed in the hands of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
Arpaio has no patience for prisoners who complain they should have the same rights as free citizens--"an interesting concept," he snorts, "though it pretty much eliminates the whole concept of jail." His notion is simply to make people either "obey the law and get an honest job" or break the law somewhere beyond the borders of Maricopa County--Pima County, say, toward which Phoenix-area cops are believed to point rousted transients.
Critics haven't much liked Arpaio's solutions, which sometimes overlook constitutional niceties. Yet few would argue that solutions are needed: as he points out, 518 of every 100,000 residents of the United States live in jail, the highest ratio in the industrial world, and yet crime keeps on growing in many categories. Besides, Arpaio says, the critics are less important than the voters who keep returning him to office in record numbers.
That may be because common criminals don't vote. To boot, Arpaio maintains, they're "cowardly and stupid, contemptuous and vicious."
Arpaio takes time in his pages to complain of having to fly coach on the way home from a Donahue taping and to fret over the Village Voice's likening his tent cities to Nazi concentration camps, but he shakes off those demons to get down to the issues. Along the way, he describes the daily work of law-enforcement officers, and America's Toughest Sheriff turns out to be a pretty good crimestopper's manual, full of details on how to handle a service pistol and frisk a suspect.
By most measures, the incidence of violent crime is holding steady in Maricopa County, while property-crime levels are falling slightly. It remains to be seen just how much of a deterrent Sheriff Joe's draconian measures are. But the stakes, Limbaugh's hero says, demand them. "The reality is stark," he writes. "Either the good guys will prevail and restore some sense of decency and honor and respect to our society, or the bad guys will come out on top and destroy everything we hold dear."
Home | Currents | City Week | Music | Review | Cinema | Back Page | Forums | Search
| © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth