Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been a controversial sheriff almost from the time he was first sworn into office in 1992. From the time of his election, the Maricopa County Jail, one of the largest jail systems in the nation, was filled to capacity. A judge ruled that Arpaio needed to start releasing prisoners before their sentences were up in order to bring the inmate population down to legal limits.
This was the first indication of the bulldog tenacity of Sheriff Joe as he refused to give prisoners an early release. Studies showed it would cost at least $70 million to build a new jail and Sheriff Joe knew this was not an option. Instead, he spent about $100,000 to build what has become known as tent city. He obtained a number of Korean War era military tents and had them erected at the county jail compound. They built a new guard tower and a vacancy sign. Tent city can house an additional 2,400 inmates.
Tent city became controversial because it placed inmates at the mercy of the temperatures of Phoenix which can range from the teens in winter to 120ºF in the summer. Another controversial aspect of tent city was the use of guard dogs to patrol the grounds. I recall hearing news reports that Sheriff Joe was spending more money per day to feed a guard dog than to feed a prisoner, especially since he reduced the number of meals to only two a day for inmates.
Sheriff Joe also hit the news when in 1995, he implanted volunteer chain gangs for male inmates. In 1996, he expanded the volunteer chain gangs to include female inmates. Chain gang volunteers would work seven hours a day, six days a week. Later on, he expanded it further to include juvenile inmates who could volunteer to work on the chain gangs for high school credit to help them eventually graduate.
When Sheriff Joe took over as the county sheriff, he discovered that there was a large problem with prison clothing being smuggled out of the prison. In an attempt to put a stop to it, he ordered that all of the underwear (yes, prison undies were being smuggled out) from now on would be bright pink.
Sheriff Joe has also been tough on illegal aliens and drug trafficking. Located only 160 miles north of the Mexican border, Phoenix and Maricopa County is one of the major destinations for both illegal aliens and drugs. Since over 95% of the illegals and drug traffickers are Hispanic, Sheriff Joe has targeted this sector of the community in his efforts to stem the flood coming into the US.
His efforts to stem the flow of illegal drugs has placed him on the hit list of several major drug cartels operating in Mexico. Several years ago, they made it known that there is a $4 million bounty for anyone who kills Sheriff Joe. Knowing the threats he faces, Sheriff Joe has vowed not to let up on his sworn duties as the county’s top cop.
Last week, it appears that someone tried to collect on that bounty by mailing a bomb to Sheriff Joe. On Thursday, a package addressed to Sheriff Joe was found at a parcel locker just outside of Flagstaff. A postal worker saw that the package was damaged and was leaking what appeared to be gun powder. The alert postal worker took the package to the Flagstaff Post Office where x-rays revealed what looked like the makings of a bomb.
Officials used a water cannon to defuse the bomb. Upon inspection, they determined that if someone, such as Sheriff Joe to whom it was addressed, had opened the package that it would have either exploded or caused a flash fire, both of which would have inflicted serious bodily injury and even death. BATF and local law enforcement are investigating the bomb and have a lead they are following.
Sheriff Joe has announced that he is just as determined as ever to continue to do his job regardless of the threats.
If anyone needs a real life hero, perhaps they need to look to Sheriff Joe. If America had more county sheriffs like Joe Arpaio who stood up to the courts, President Obama, the Justice Department and drug cartels, I’m sure our streets and neighborhoods would be much safer. We need to encourage our county sheriffs to be as courageous in their duties as Sheriff Joe. We also need to pray for them each and every day. Pray for them, their deputies and for all of their families.