Penzone says mending relations with the Hispanic community is an ongoing process

PHOENIX – A year after taking office, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said one of his main objectives has been the rejection of racial profiling, something that had plagued the department before he was elected. Discrimination is not tolerated in his agency, he said, and those who defy the rules and policies are being held accountable.

However, some activists argue that he hasn’t done enough to mend the relationship between the office and the Hispanic community in Maricopa County, which is among the largest in the U.S.

“We are doing everything in our power within a reasonable time frame, but you can’t change 25 years of a practice in one year,” Penzone said.

Penzone spoke with Cronkite News as he marked 12 months as sheriff. Among the topics discussed was the office’s focus on getting beyond the controversies created by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who served 24 years before Penzone defeated him in November 2016. Earlier this month, Arpaio – who was convicted of criminal contempt last summer but quickly pardoned by President Donald Trump – is running for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Republican Jeff Flake.

Pro-immigrant activists have criticized Penzone for allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to remain posted in his Fourth Avenue Jail. Penzone reiterated that the majority of the people detained at the jail have been apprehended by other law-enforcement agencies, and he emphasized that Maricopa County has permitted ICE to interview detainees and that the process is the same for all.

“At the end of the day,” the sheriff said, “they have to be processed for the crime they’ve committed against the laws of the state or a municipality, and they have to be registered with the jail. ICE has its own authority once that happens.”

To help monitor deputies and ensure they’re not discriminating against minorities, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has put an early detection system in place. For example, this system logs the demographic of individuals who are pulled over, which helps the department make sure deputies aren’t targeting more individuals of a certain race or ethnicity.

Penzone called it a work in progress.

“Is everything perfect? Absolutely not, but for those who have an expectation, I would be willing to bet you they’ve never run an organization of 35,000 employees,” he said.

In another effort to better the relationship with certain sectors of the community, the office also has created a community outreach team that meets with residents.

“We need to understand what the challenges may be so we can find ways to overcome and address those,” Penzone said.