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Richardson: Mesa PD takes lead in innovation, efficiency, cost cutting

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Bill Richardson

Once again, the city of Mesa is taking the lead in innovation, efficiency and cost cutting. And once again, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) is sticking it to taxpayers.

According to a recent Arizona Republic story, Mesa could be the first city in Arizona to privatize its jail operations. Mesa is looking in to a plan to use a private detention center for those charged and convicted of misdemeanors. It would save at least $2 million dollars a year. Mesa estimates they’d send 678 prisoners a month to jail. A reduction in costs is in the discussion if there are more prisoners.

The alternative is to continue to use the extremely expensive Maricopa County jail.

Former Mesa Police Chief George Gascon first looked into using a private detention center to cut costs in 2007. It never happened thanks to political pressure from MCSO.  That’s cost Mesa taxpayers millions.

Even though we pay hefty taxes to Maricopa County, and a special jail tax that’s raised close to $2 billion for the sole purpose of operating the jail system, the cost to book and hold prisoners has skyrocketed.

Under Sheriff Paul Penzone costs continue to climb. Cities will now pay $326 to book a prisoner into jail and $102 a day to hold them.

Under a potential agreement with CoreCivic, formerly Correctional Corporation of America, Mesa will pay $68 a day to hold a prisoner and $35,000 a month to transport prisoners to a detention center.

The Republic quoted newly elected Mesa Councilman Ryan Winkle who asked, “Are we paying for inmates? Or are we paying for lawsuits?” Winkle said, referring to multiple legal issues faced by MCSO. Issues that have yet to go away.

In a statement to the Republic, MCSO said Penzone “is in communication with the city of Mesa and is working toward a solution that addresses budget concerns without compromising the services MCSO provides. MCSO provides a high level of customized support for a very diverse inmate population.”

Is Penzone talking about Tent City?

Good questions by Winkle about a system that’s been broken for years and will no doubt take many, many more years to fix.

As for Penzone’s prepared and politically correct fluffy-puffy statement, it was spoken like just another politician who never quits campaigning for the next election.

Penzone’s former career as a Phoenix police sergeant and spokesperson for the Silent Witness Program gave him very limited preparation, other than looking and sounding good in front of the camera, to control the sheriff’s office.

MCSO has 4,000 employees, a $400 million budget and a jail system with 10,000 inmates. MCSO only provides law enforcement services in the still unincorporated portions of the county. The vast majority of county residents get police protection from their city police, not the sheriff.

Mesa City Hall is wise to look at a better way to deliver public safety services. For every dollar, Mesa saves on jail costs it means the police department has that much more money to look for the people who need to be in jail.

– Bill Richardson is a retired Mesa police detective.

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