The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is responsible for vitally important law-enforcement functions in one of the largest counties in the nation.
It defines its core missions as law-enforcement services, support services and detention. MCSO falls seriously short of fulfilling its mission in all three areas.
Although MCSO is adept at self-promotion and is an unquestionably "tough" law-enforcement agency, under its watch violent crime rates recently have soared, both in absolute terms and relative to other jurisdictions. It has diverted resources away from basic law enforcement functions to highly-publicized immigration sweeps, which are ineffective in policing illegal immigration and in reducing crime generally, and to extensive trips by MCSO officials to Honduras for purposes that are nebulous at best. Profligate spending on those diversions helped produce a financial crisis in late 2007 that forced MCSO to curtail or reduce important law-enforcement functions.
In terms of support services, MCSO has allowed a huge backlog of outstanding warrants to accumulate, and has seriously disadvantaged local police departments by closing satellite booking facilities. MCSO's detention facilities are subject to costly lawsuits for excessive use of force and inadequate medical services.
Compounding the substantive problems are chronically poor record-keeping and reporting of statistics, coupled with resistance to public disclosure.
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office falls seriously short in all three of the core components of its mission as MCSO defines it.
Over the past several years, MCSO has lost sight of its most essential priorities. The escalating rates of violent crimes in its jurisdiction coupled with diversion of resources to less important priorities, less-effective law-enforcement tactics, or to jurisdictions that have their own police departments, indicates it is not "the leader in establishing the standards for providing professional quality law enforcement."
Its failure to assume leadership in reducing the huge backlog of outstanding warrants and its closure of satellite booking centers means that it is not effectively providing essential law-enforcement support services.
Its detention of criminal suspects and convicted criminals has been the subject of successful and expensive legal verdicts and settlements of investigations by the federal government, and of revocation of accreditation. Its records are inadequate and opaque rather than transparent.
Reforms aimed at increasing transparency and accountability, and at defining jurisdiction and responsibility, will make law enforcement in Maricopa County more efficient and effective.
Matthew Ladner is the Goldwater Institute's vice president of research. To read the full policy paper and its recommendations, or for more information, visit www.goldwaterinstitute.org.