PHOENIX (AP) Taxpayers in metro Phoenix are approaching a milestone in their financial pain from a 2013 racial profiling verdict over former Sheriff Joe Arpaios immigration crackdowns: In roughly a year, those ongoing costs will exceed a quarter of a billion dollars.
The bill is projected to reach $273 million by the summer of 2024, officials were told Monday before they approved a tentative budget that included $38 million in legal and compliance spending for the racial profiling lawsuit during the coming fiscal year.
A decade ago, a federal judge concluded the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office had profiled Latinos in Arpaios signature traffic patrols that targeted immigrants, leading to massive court-ordered overhauls of both the agencys traffic operations and its internal affairs department.
Under Arpaio, who was voted out as sheriff in 2016, the internal affairs operation was heavily criticized for biased decision-making. It now suffers from a crushing backlog of more than 1,900 internal affairs investigations under Arpaios successor, Sheriff Paul Penzone.
The overwhelming majority of the spending goes toward hiring employees to help meet the courts requirements and a separate staff who work on behalf of the court to monitor compliance by the sheriff’s office with both overhauls.
The taxpayer spending is expected to continue until the Maricopa County sheriffs office has fully complied with overhauling its traffic enforcement and internal affairs operations for three straight years. Although three of the agencys four compliance scores are near or at 100%, the sheriffs office hasnt yet been deemed fully compliant.
Late last year, Penzone was found in civil contempt of court for noncompliance with the internal affairs overhaul.
Before Penzone was elected, Arpaio was found in both civil and criminal for disobeying a 2011 order to stop his immigration patrols. He was spared a possible jail sentence when his misdemeanor conviction was pardoned by then-President Donald Trump in 2017.
Raul Pia, who serves on a community advisory board set up to help improve trust in the sheriffs office, said the agency has made improvements since the court started supervising it.
But the big pillar – racial profiling – that continues, Pia said. Until you wrap your arms around the big issues, compliance and the monitoring does not go away. And you still have the costs. If there is not a moral imperative to fix it, there is financial imperative to get us out of this bottomless pit.
Attorneys who pressed the case against the sheriffs office have criticized the agency for traffic-stop studies since the profiling verdict showing deputies often treat drivers who are Hispanic and Black differently than other drivers, though the reports stopped short of saying Latinos were still being profiled.
In a statement, Penzones office said it cant say when it will reach full compliance, but noted compliance scores have improved under his leadership.
These costs continue to increase as salaries, benefits and contracts increase over time due to inflation, the agency said. Even as we become compliant, many of these costs will remain as removing them could jeopardize future compliance.
As he has in the past, Arpaio who famously broke the longtime local police tradition of staying out of immigration enforcement blamed Penzone for the costs.
Am I sorry for what I did doing my job enforcing the illegal immigration laws? Arpaio said. No.
Arpaios immigration patrols, known as sweeps, involved large numbers of sheriffs deputies converging on an area of metro Phoenix including some Latino neighborhoods over the course of several days to stop traffic violators and arrest other offenders.
Arpaio led 20 of the large-scale patrols from January 2008 through October 2011. Under Arpaios leadership, the agency continued doing immigration enforcement in smaller, more routine traffic patrols until spring 2013, leading to his criminal conviction.
Lydia Guzman, a Latino civil rights advocate and longtime Arpaio critic, said it isnt fair to blame Penzone for the agencys deep problems.
I think that, at the end of the day, what caused all this was Joe. We would have never been in this bind. Maricopa County could have been flourishing with all sorts of wonderful (government) programs if the Melendres case did not exist, Guzman said, referring to the profiling case by its proper name. I blame Joe.
By Jacques Billeaud (AP)