Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone speaks to the press about what he calls a partisan punishment that doesn’t hurt him personally, but the sheriff’s deputies and people of Maricopa County. Patrick Breen/azcentral.com
A provision in the state Legislature’s criminal-justice budget bill strips $1.6 million in funding from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for gang enforcement, a move that critics called a partisan affront to new Democratic Sheriff Paul Penzone.
The bill passed in both the Arizona House and Senate on Thursday and soon will make its way to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.
Maricopa County was the only sheriff’s office in the state to be targeted for such cuts.
Penzone blasted the move on Thursday, calling it “absolutely partisan in nature.”
The action, he said, “hurt and impacted the men and women who do their job in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, and more importantly, the community that we serve.”
Penzone said he received word of the funding cut at the “eleventh hour,” prohibiting him from having a chance to speak out. He called for county sheriffs to have a seat at the table when legislators decide on how to spend public-safety dollars.
Democratic lawmakers also chastised the move as a partisan ploy, noting that Maricopa County voters had just elected a Democrat to the post after more than 20 years of Republican Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Penzone beat Arpaio handily in the November election, running on a promise to return the office to public safety over politics.
The funds were taken from the state’s Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM). The Arizona Department of Public Safety website said GIITEM’s main objective is to “deter criminal gang activity through the enforcement of state laws.”
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the funds were intended to help fight illegal immigration, which became a rallying cry for Arpaio. However, his policies also cost the county millions in legal fees to fend off lawsuits.
Because of those lawsuits, a federal judge has banned the office from enforcing federal immigration law. Kavanah said it was this order — not politics — that prompted the decision.
The judge’s order, however, was issued as a preliminary injunction in late 2011, and then finalized in 2013 — when Arpaio was still in office.
When questioned about this discrepancy, Kavanagh said it was his understanding that Arpaio was still enforcing illegal immigration after the judge entered the order.
“It’s part of an anti-illegal immigration task force,” Kavanagh said of the funds. “So, what are you going to do?”
Other Republicans followed the immigration thread.
“The new sheriff has stated publicly that he doesn’t want to enforce all the immigration laws,” said Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria.
Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, echoed Livingston’s message, adding that “elections have consequences.”
Of the stripped funding, $1.2 million will go to address untested rape kits throughout Arizona. The proposal designates $500,000 to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and $400,000 to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
Penzone said the funds had little to do with illegal immigration in his office.
“We are aggressive in our efforts to intercept and apprehend drug traffickers off the I-8 corridor; one of the top drug-trafficking corridors throughout the state and possibly influential throughout the nation,” he said. “The funding that was taken from this office directly affects our operations.”
Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, said the Republicans’ justifications for cutting Penzone’s funding don’t pass muster.
“I think it boils down to this: There’s an awful lot of dancing going on, that started as soon as people started to point out the discrepancies and how partisan it is,” he said.
Clark said Maricopa County residents will suffer because Republicans are trying to punish Penzone for winning an election.
“Which means that, in effect, the Republicans are trying to punish the voters for electing Paul Penzone,” he said.
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