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The Tough Guy: Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio believes in making criminals do hard time in the desert heat.

June 01, 2007  |  by - Also by this author

POLICE: Have you ever tried to convince other sheriffs to put their inmates in tents?

I tried to get [California] Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to come down here and visit the tents. [California is facing the prospect of releasing thousands of inmates because of overcrowding.] He never came.

But I've got the tents and we're building more. We're soon going to have 2,500 tents. It gets up to 140 degrees in the summer, and it gets down to 5 degrees in the winter. But I don't care that we don't have any air conditioners or anything like that.

There's a big vacancy sign outside of our tents. It means that we'll never release people early and never [be so crowded that we can't take more.] We'll take as many as we can get.

POLICE: You've been criticized for having liberal force and pursuit policies. You let your deputies chase suspects to the ends of the earth and, if they have to kick ass and take names—more power to them. Don't you worry about liability and lawsuits?

Look, I get sued. It just comes with the job, and I don't worry about it anymore than I worry about going to the toilet. If you don't do nothing, you're never gong to get sued.

Yeah, I let my guys pursue, and I don't worry about it. That's the trouble with a lot of law enforcement [administrators]: They're afraid to do anything. They're afraid of lawsuits, afraid of this, afraid of that. Their poor cops can't do anything. They're afraid of video cameras, they're trying to subdue people and everybody's taking pictures. Sometimes you're not backed up [by your agency]. We're living in a tough age right now for cops. That's why it's great to be elected.

When I was a cop in Washington, I walked the black beat for four years. I had my night stick and a .38. We didn't have all these Glocks, we just took care of business on our beat. Of course, I'd probably be in jail now if I did what we did back then, today. It's not that I did anything illegal, mind you. But back then if a guy resisted, we took necessary action to lock him up. Things have changed now, and not for the better.

POLICE: Today, public reaction to police use of force is inflamed by self-proclaimed community activists and people who have the time to go out and clamor. They get the ears of government officials, the sheriff, lawyers, and basically extort compliance from elected law enforcement officials. Do you ever let community activists hamstring your own operations?

I've worked hard the last 14 years as sheriff. I worked 14 hours a day. I averaged two speeches a day. So the people in my county—3.8 million people—know me. You ask anybody here, and they're gonna know who their sheriff is. In fact, you ask anybody in the United States, or ask anyone overseas, I guarantee nine out of 10 will know who's sheriff in Maricopa County. I've worked hard for that.

I say this to make a point: If you work hard, people will support you, they'll trust you. And I offer my polls and popularity as evidence of that fact. I used to hover around 70 or 80 percent. Some 1.5 million people have come through the jails since I've been sheriff. I suspect they won't vote for me—maybe they will—but the point is if you build up a reputation, sometimes you can get by with this and fight everybody, which I do. I know I've got the support of the people. I don't have to go to bed with any politician or bureaucrat.

And I've been blasted by the press, but I survive. I've got the tents out in 140-degree heat. The press attacks me for that. They also attack me for our meals. It costs more to feed our dogs; it's only 35 cents to feed an inmate. What does the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department get charged? I bet it's a buck-and-a-half for a meal. I took away a meal. We only give them a bologna sandwich and a hot meal at night. That's only 35 cents a day to feed an inmate. I make those decisions.

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