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Richardson: Mesa seeks ways to escape sheriff’s growing jail charges to keep cops on streets

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Bill Richardson

Poor Paul Penzone. To hear the new Democratic Maricopa County sheriff tell it the big bad Republicans are picking on him.

The Arizona Legislature deleted $1.6 million from this year’s state budget that had become an annual handout to ex-sheriff and political power broker Joe Arpaio. The multi-million-dollar giveaways have always been more about buying political favors than it was about fighting crime.

This year the Legislature is splitting the $1.6 million between the Pima County and Pinal County sheriff departments. Pima County needs it to pay for the testing of a backlog of rape kits. Reports are there are over 2,000 untested kits in Tucson.

Pinal County will use the money to pay for its cooperative and increasingly effective anti-drug smuggling efforts. They work in conjunction with the Feds and the Arizona Department of Public Safety targeting the drug runners on state routes and interstate highways.

Sheriffs have historically worked together and shared resources and money. Penzone should be supportive of the efforts of the sheriffs in Pima and Pinal County who don’t have his resources.

Penzone’s whining in front the cameras to get sympathy is hardly befitting the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). It made him look weak and self-serving.

While $1.6 million dollars is a lot of money to you and me, it’s a drop in the bucket at the MCSO where the annual budget is close to $400 million. The agency gets hundreds of millions of dollars courtesy of the normal taxes we pay, plus hundreds of millions more thanks to a special “Jail Tax” that funnels cash directly into the sheriff’s pockets.

The media is all over Penzone getting picked on. Man, did they ever get snookered! It reminds me of the days when Arpaio would use local reporters as his personal PR team.

What hasn’t been talked about and reported in this somewhat emotional discussion are Penzone’s excessive spending habits and the number of people he’s appointed to be part of his rock star-like entourage.

Sheriffs in Arizona usually appoint a chief deputy.

Penzone has gone much, much further.

Penzone didn’t stop at a chief deputy. He needed a chief of staff, an assistant chief, a director of public information, a community affairs captain, a director of community relations and outreach, a community outreach officer, and a director of drug education, prevention and initiatives. There are plenty of highly qualified and professional deputy sheriffs who could’ve performed these duties. So why hire outsiders?

I’d bet Penzone’s team of pals from the Phoenix PD, a former TV station executive and a high-powered and nationally connected Democratic operative he hired to be his chief of staff, are costing us close to what the Legislature didn’t give the office this year.

How do we know Penzone wasn’t planning on using the state money to pay for his cronies? We don’t.

The residents of Maricopa County need to understand the sheriff provides policing services to a tiny segment of the county population and has little, if anything, to do with what happens inside city lines except for bleeding cities dry with his excessive fees to book city prisoners into jail and hold them. Mesa is looking for ways to escape the sheriff’s growing jail charges in order to keep cops on the streets.

Because of the county’s size, Penzone is more prison warden and process server than police chief.

Penzone needs to worry about performing his statutory duties to the best of his abilities and quit playing to the cameras and his liberal Democratic base.

Like I said before, Penzone looks self-serving, weak and whiny.

– Bill Richardson is a retired Mesa police detective.

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