I chose SheriffJoe Arpaio as my very important person (VIP) this week because I admire him. Sheriff Joe is 81 years old, an age when most people have long retired. He was first voted into office in 1992 at age 60 and has been re-elected five times. He is responsible for law enforcement in Maricopa County, Arizona. He manages “the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, county jail, courtroom security, prisoner transport, service of warrants, and service of process.
The baby who became Sheriff was born in Massachusetts to parents who had immigrated from Italy. His “mother died while giving birth to him,” and his father reared him. He worked in his father’s grocery store while going to high school. After completing high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 18. He served in the Medical Detachment Division from 1950 until 1954 and as a military policeman in France for a time.
Arpaio received his discharge from the Army in 1954 and became a police officer in Washington, D.C. prior to moving to Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1957 and joining the police force there. Six months later he was appointed as a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (later the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] where he served for 25 years. While with the DEA, he was stationed in Argentina, Turkey, and Mexico; he advanced through the ranks and became the head of the Arizona branch of the DEA. He was elected to be Sheriff of Maricopa County in 1992 and was re-elected in 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. Recall petitions were filed against Sheriff Joe in 2007 and again in 2013 but failed both times.
Sheriff Arpaio has been married to his wife Ava for approximately 54 years; the couple was blessed with two children and four grandchildren. They currently live in Fountain Hills, Arizona.
Sheriff Arpaio is very outspoken and apparently says exactly what he thinks! He has attracted much media attention, “styles himself as `America’s Toughest Sheriff,’ and has faced the wrath of the federal government. He “has been accused of abuse of power, misuse of funds, illegal immigration enforcement, and racial profiling” and “is being sued by the U.S Department of Justice and in a separate class-action matter for racial profiling.
I first learned about Sheriff Joe when I read about his “Tent City Jail.” He set up his tent city as an extension of the county jail and describes it as a “concentration camp.” It is located in a fenced yard next to a building containing toilets, showers, and an area for meals. When the inmates complained in 2003 about the extreme temperatures in Phoenix (110+ degrees), he reminded them “It’s 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents, have to wear full body armor, and they didn’t commit any crimes, so shut your mouths.”
Unlike the jails in Alaska where inmates once received crab and lobster, Arpaio serves his inmates surplus food and limits their meals to twice daily. In 2007 he instituted an in-house radio station (KJOE). It broadcasts from the jail basement four hours a day for five days a week and features classical music, opera, Frank Sinatra hits, patriotic music, and educational programming. He allowed no cable television in his tent city until he learned that a federal law required it; he re-installed cable television but only shows the Disney Channel and the weather. When asked why he included the weather channel, he said that he wanted the inmates to know how hot it was going to be.
Sheriff Joe bans “sexually explicit material” including Playboy because of gross behavior of the inmates. The ban was challenged on First Amendment grounds but was upheld in a court of law. He introduced his “world-famous” pink underwear for the inmates; his success brought so much press coverage that introduced pink handcuff. He even sold “customized pink boxers (with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s logo and `Go Joe’) as a fund-raiser for the Sheriff’s Posse Association.
Arpaio expects his inmates to do more than simply lie around at the taxpayers’ expense. He instituted chain gangs in 1995 and expanded the concept to female volunteer chain gangs in 1996 to work on city and country projects. Female inmates work seven hour days, six day weeks. He has also instituted the “world’s first all-juvenile volunteer chain gang” where “volunteers earn high school credit toward a diploma.” Since 2001 he requires all inmates aged 18 and over to register for the Selective Service System, and 28,000 inmates (including 9,000 aliens) have registered for Selective Service. Inmates may also volunteer to be organ donors. It runs an animal shelter which is manned by inmates and a farm where inmates raise their own food.
Sheriff Arpaio is famous for his focus on illegal immigration; he regularly conducts “saturation patrols and immigration sweeps, targeting Latino neighborhoods and day laborers. He sometimes targets businesses employing Latinos and arrests employees who are illegal for identity theft. He “maintains an immigrant smuggling squad which stops cars with Latino drivers or passengers, to check their immigration status.” He claims his anti-illegal immigration efforts “is an operation where we want to go after illegals, not the crime first…. It’s a pure program. You go after them, and you lock them up.”
Arpaio “is a defendant in a federal class action suit, and a United States Department of Justice suit, both of which allege racial profiling.” He denies that he racially profiles.
Sheriff Arpaio is apparently much concerned about the money spent by his county and does everything he can to keep the costs of running his department as low as possible. This may be one of the reasons he is so well liked in his county.
Sheriff Joe and members of his Cold Case Posse are investigating Barack Obama’s long-form birth certificate, which the White House released on April 27, 2011. On March 1, 2012, the Cold Case Posse announced that the birth certificate is “a computer-generated forgery. Additionally, the Posse’s six-month-long review included an examination of President Obama’s Selective Service card and contended that it also is a forgery. Their claims were presented at that press conference, and at a second press conference held on March 31, 2012. The allegations regarding the birth certificate were repeated at a July 17, 2012, news conference, where Arpaio stated that his investigators are certain that Obama’s long-form birth certificate is fraudulent.”
Recently Sheriff Joe announced that he purchased 400 AR-15 style rifles and ordered his deputies to carry the weapons even when they are off duty. He told Fox 10, a local Phoenix affiliate, that the rifles are needed to combat criminals who are using weapons with more and more power. “We live in a violent society, even here in Maricopa County, and across our nation, and the least we can do is to arm our deputies, let’s say with enough firepower to fight back.” “My deputies will carry guns 24 hours a day, even off duty. If they see any incident occurring, they will take action anywhere in this valley.” This announcement came on the same day that Jorge Vargas, an employee of the Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed outside his home while off duty. The office said that three deputies have been shot and killed in the line of duty over the past two years.
Many people have strong opinions for or against Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I like him because he uses common sense and takes action without sticking his finger in the air to determine which way the political winds are blowing. The fact that he has been re-elected five times and has defeated two recall petitions tells me that his electors are strong supporters also.