Tent jails, pink undies leave new sheriff with choices
PHOENIX — Sheriff Joe Arpaio grabbed headlines and became a national political figure with his unorthodox and divisive approach to policing — jailing inmates in tents, making them wear pink underwear, leading crackdowns on illegal immigration and investigating President Obama's birth certificate.
The defeat Nov. 8 of the longtime sheriff of metro Phoenix raises questions about whether his successor, Paul Penzone, will keep the contentious practices and how he will overhaul an agency that has been criticized for targeting immigrants, and creating a culture of cruelty in its jails, among other things.
The retired Phoenix police sergeant will take office in January amid national uncertainty over the status of immigrants and fear within the Latino community since Donald Trump won the presidency.
Penzone said he will cut off Arpaio's investigation into Obama's birth certificate. But he is interested in keeping some of Arpaio's signature methods, such as using posse volunteers who help out in sheriff's operations to free up officers for police work.
Following are some of the challenges that Penzone faces when he takes office:
Early in his two-decade tenure, Arpaio became popular with voters for jailing inmates in outdoor military tents amid Phoenix's triple-digit summer heat, making them wear pink underwear, and using them to work on old-time chain gangs.
The tough conditions appealed to those who believed, as he did, that jail should not be comfortable.
Penzone said he will eliminate the pink underwear, which he calls a ploy lacking value to taxpayers. "That's the sheriff's brand," Penzone said of Arpaio. "That's not about law enforcement."
He said he is willing to close the Tent City jail but is reserving judgment until he can make a full evaluation, and plans to dramatically scale back the chain gangs.
Penzone has no plans to restart the immigration crackdowns that made Arpaio a key figure in the country's border debate. Even if the incoming sheriff wanted to bring them back, the courts have barred the agency from immigration enforcement.
After a court order, the sheriff's office is overhauling how it investigates officer misconduct.
The judge in the profiling case said Arpaio's internal investigations were fraught with biased decision-making and had been manipulated to shield officials from accountability.
The judge has ordered new investigations into allegations that Arpaio's officers regularly pocketed items in traffic stops and safe-house busts.
The agency's former head of internal affairs is under federal investigation on suspicion of concealing nearly 1,500 IDs.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge Penzone faces is restoring the Latino community's trust in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
The incoming sheriff said he will rebuild trust by establishing a culture of professionalism, meeting expectations on how the agency should operate and relieving taxpayers of their unnecessary financial burdens from the racial profiling case.
Penzone said he is not worried about a backlash if he reverses Arpaio's policies.