First Mandatory Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Community Meeting Held
PHOENIX – Earlier this year, a federal judge determined the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office discriminated against Latino drivers during traffic stops. As a result of that finding, the sheriff's office now must comply with a sweeping court order mandating changes.
Among the new requirements is a rule that the sheriff’s office must now hold community meetings after any large-scale operation. The first of such mandatory meetings was held on Saturday morning to discuss the details of a two-day MCSO crime suppression operation carried out by deputies in mid-October.
Other changes ordered by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow include the appointment of an independent monitor and cameras installed in deputies’ vehicles.
The sheriff’s office organized Saturday’s meeting in the suburb of Litchfield Park near the public library. It was held outside and there were no chairs for attendees.
The Sheriff himself, Joe Arpaio, wasn't there. Only one local resident attended.
The rest of the crowd was mostly media and MCSO personnel. A handful of Arpaio protesters stood across the street holding signs saying “We Have Rights” and “Judge Snow is Watching.”
A MCSO deputy chief and a captain shared details of the October crime suppression operation with the sparse crowd. The operation involved dozens of deputies who swarmed a 40 square mile area in the West Valley to enforce traffic and criminal laws.
According to MCSO, the operation’s original purpose was to target gangs and violence by focusing on fugitive warrants, theft, drugs, stolen vehicles, and violations of alcohol, curfew and weapons laws. It was billed as a response to the August shooting of an MCSO detention officer which occurred in the same area.
A suspect for that crime is already in custody and is allegedly affiliated with a gang.
A few years ago, these types of operations were a trademark part of the sheriff’s illegal immigration enforcement strategy.
But there were new rules this time, due to Judge Snow’s order.
“During this operation all personnel were strictly forbidden about inquiring about the immigration status of any person they talked to,” said MCSO Captain Pat Lopez at the meeting.
Deputies also used new forms this operation to record their perceptions of drivers’ race and ethnicity before and after making traffic stops, as required by Snow.
According to Lopez, before making contact with drivers, deputies recorded that they did not know the race or ethnicity of 85 percent of the drivers. After making contact, they said they perceived 44 percent of the drivers they stopped to be Latino, 33 percent to be non-Hispanic White, and were unsure of the rest.
Deputies made contact with over 400 individuals, and the most common type of citation were for traffic violations.
There were 37 arrests during the operation, but most individuals were given citations and released, with the exception of three people who were booked into jail. Two individuals were booked for outstanding warrants and, once in jail, federal immigration officials placed a hold on them, indicating they might be in the country illegally.
Alfredo Gutierrez, a former Democratic state lawmaker, was one of the few attendees at the community meeting. He says it appears the Snow’s order is making an impact.
“The statistics in this case are dramatically different than the picture they have painted in the past,” Gutierrez said. “And that is the testament to the power of a federal court order.”
But Gutierrez remains wary of the sheriff’s office, noting its decision to hold the meeting at a time and place unlikely to draw a crowd.
“It's clear the behavior of the sheriff's office has changed dramatically-- their attitude clearly hasn't,” he said.
“That's why are out here in the middle of nowhere on 9:30 in the morning on a long weekend standing outside in the sun, because that is how they feel about the Latino community.”
When the news of the sheriff’s intention to carry out the crime suppression operation initially broke, the plaintiffs in racial profiling suit questioned whether the plan was in keeping with Snow’s order. The order requires plans for these operations to be reviewed in advance by an independent court monitor, but a monitor has not yet been appointed. The order says large-scale operations can be carried out in the interim period in “exigent circumstances.”
While community members were notably absent from the sheriff’s meeting, about 30 people gathered in a Phoenix union hall later in the day to discuss Snow’s ruling against the sheriff's office.