Penzone: have an “open heart” to new MCSO leadership

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, right, spoke to the community of Guadalupe in the cafeteria of Frank Elementary School on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. (Photo by Ryan Santistevan/Cronkite News)

GUADALUPE — As you enter the town of Guadalupe, a sign welcomes visitors with a quote from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

When new Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone spoke at a community meeting on Wednesday, he opened with a quote from the civil rights leader.

“An injustice to one of us is an injustice to all of us,” Penzone said. “My pursuit of this office was for those reasons. Any time you see that someone in our community is mistreated, we all have a responsibility to stand up and fight for justice.”

The meeting was open to the public to learn updates on MCSO as well as to hear Penzone detail his mission. Penzone defeated former Sheriff Joe Arpaio in November’s election. For 24 years, Arpaio took a tough stance on illegal immigration and he is facing criminal contempt charges for a long-running racial-profiling case.

Penzone said to those in attendance that he may not be in the same circumstance as they are but that he understood their concerns and experiences. Penzone said he shares the same goal: to have a community where everyone feels safe and is safe.

He said he had created a Hispanic advisory board, an African American advisory board and an LGBT board. He also said he has been making personnel changes in the department.

“Some people were promoted, others were transferred – not because I judged them as individuals but because I did not believe they were best suited for the positions they held for us to move forward the way that we need to,” he said.

Penzone has developed a group called Sheriff Penzone Executive Advisory Review (SPEAR) that will meet to discuss the pros and cons of projects under MCSO, including the Tent City detention facility.

One of the members brought on by Penzone is Lydia Guzman, who works in Chicanos Por La Causa social services.

“The fact that the sheriff has reached out to me and to others that represent other communities, I think says a lot about the sheriff, that he is genuinely interested to hear what we have to say,” Guzman said. The committee expects to meet at the end of February, she said. Tent City is functioning, and Guzman said the group has different perspectives on the project. Penzone will be the one to decide what happens with the detention center.

“There’s a lot of things that have to deal with Tent City,” she said. “They are going to be reviewing some in my area. My concern is the civil and human violations … I know that other people have concerns over the economic feasibility of maintaining that open.”

Guadalupe resident Mary Bravo said she has lived in the town for at least 60 years.

“There is a big concern, “Bravo said. “(Penzone) needs to know that not everyone is a druggy, not everyone is in crime or has a record or any of that in this community. You have law abiding citizens, Americans, apple pie and tortilla with frijole instead, you know?”

Tempe resident Lisa Sampsell, 58, said the Wednesday meeting was the first she had been to but she felt it is important for all community members to remain involved so that no one can be targeted for the color of their skin.

“I came out because I am concerned that people are going to forget – that just getting rid of the sheriff is the solution to the problems in this organization and that they need to understand that people are watching and that things need to continue to change, not just at the top,” Sampsell said.

Penzone asked that the community to not judge those who wear the MCSO uniform because of the former leadership’s priority of safety.

“We have to realize that there will be good days and bad days before we are able to get to a place, we are capable of, which is being a healthy community for law enforcement and those we serve,” he said. “I’m asking you humbly for your patience, so that we can work together and earn your trust through our transparency, our professionalism and our ethics. I don’t expect this to happen overnight but our actions will speak more loudly than my words tonight.”