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Arturo Venegas, Jr. Headshot

The Difference in Police Leadership on Immigration and Civil Rights

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The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division just released the long-awaited results of its investigation into Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his department. Sheriff Joe's tactics may have been headline-grabbing, but they have caused serious harm to his community and the people he swore an oath to protect and serve.

What citizens and community-policing advocates have known for years was officially confirmed by the Justice Department's investigative findings. Arpaio, far from being a role model for local or federal law enforcement, has destroyed the trust of his community, especially when it comes to immigrants and Latinos in Arizona.

The report confirms that tactics like Arpaio's are rooted in racial profiling: "Since roughly 2007, in the course of establishing its immigration enforcement program, MCSO has implemented practices that treat Latinos as if they are all undocumented, regardless of whether a legitimate factual basis exists to suspect that a person is undocumented" (page 6); that his policing practices damage law enforcement's relationship with all Latinos in the community: a "wall of distrust between MCSO officers and Maricopa County Latino residents" (page 2); and that he has made it harder for law enforcement officers to fight crime, as expressed by the MCSO deputy who "bemoaned the impact of MCSO's immigration-related operations, stressing that they 'affect our ability to work in a community that hates you'" (page 16).

Every day that Arpaio has focused on terrorizing immigrant and Latino communities, while serious criminals roam the streets of Maricopa County, it has made other law enforcement officials' jobs harder across the nation. Law enforcement, and especially those of us who value the Constitution of the United States, should thank the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice for finally taking steps to hold Arpaio accountable for his actions.

The sheriff's obsession with rounding up immigrants was at the cost of more than 400 sex crimes, including dozens of child molestation cases which were ignored or botched. He pursued his extreme immigration enforcement agenda at the expense of criminal activity of every sort. Worse still, his practices have spread to other sheriffs and have even become enshrined in several state laws.

Last week the Department of Homeland Security took unprecedented steps in limiting its cooperation with Arpaio, but until the racial profiling and aggressive tactics he championed are no longer encouraged through state laws like Arizona's and Alabama's, or tacitly condoned by federal programs like Secure Communities, we have not yet eradicated his legacy of fear.

Now let me tell you about another law enforcement leader, one who might be the precise opposite of Sheriff Arpaio. Patrick Vincent Murphy grew up with the New York Police Department, the son of a cop who also became a cop. In 1970 he became Commissioner of NYPD, named to the position by Mayor John Lindsay. Commissioner Murphy, a reformer, battled corruption and championed professionalism through better education, race relations and less physical force by cops. He led the police departments of Washington, D.C., Detroit and Syracuse in addition to NYPD. He was also the first director of the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, an agency responsible for making law enforcement more professional and accountable.

Murphy went on to become President of the Police Foundation, advocating new and better practices that promoted sound and just policing in a democratic society. Aware that there was a need to develop an organization to research critical issues with which the law enforcement profession was struggling, Commissioner Murphy was one of ten visionary leaders who created the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

Both the Police Foundation and PERF have recently concluded studies and produced reports that recommended the need to have local law enforcement removed from the enforcement of immigration law - just the opposite of what Sheriff Arpaio and his department have been doing. Both concluded that the impact of such enforcement would lead to negative impacts on community policing and they cautioned about the possibility that racial profiling could be a by-product. In fact, these tactics and their result was exactly what the U.S. Department of Justice uncovered in their investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

I had the honor of knowing and talking to Commissioner Murphy during my career. Pat was a wise man who shared his knowledge and wisdom to the benefit of our profession. Our leaders, communities and nation are the better for his work.

At another point in my career, I also had the opportunity to attend a class with Sheriff Arpaio. At the conclusion of the class, he asked us to wait because he had a gift for us. He went to his vehicle and returned with a box full of the book he had written. It was the book that detailed his infamous practices of putting prisoners in tents, feeding them bologna sandwiches, and clothing them in pink undergarments.

During a week where a true leader in our profession passed away, and another "leader" was castigated by the Department of Justice, I can't help but draw a parallel and wonder what the future of our profession beholds. One can only hope that the legacy of Patrick Murphy will live on and his vision and wisdom will eclipse the grandstanding tactics that have stained our profession in Maricopa County, Arizona.