Judge rejects new policing plan by Maricopa County sheriff in profiling case

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, right, speaks, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, in Phoenix as FBI special agent in charge Michael DeLeon listens. [The Associated Press]

By Jacques Billeaud
The Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — A federal judge rejected Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone’s bid to replace a plan to remedy his agency’s longstanding biased treatment of Latinos during traffic stops with a new plan that emphasizes community policing.

The ruling came Monday in a lawsuit in which MCSO deputies were found in 2013 to have racially profiled Latinos during immigration crackdowns conducted by Mr. Penzone’s predecessor, Joe Arpaio.

An attorney argued Mr. Penzone was not trying to abandon the current plan’s goals and instead wanted to build trust within the Latino community by having officers listen to concerns about law enforcement and issues affecting the quality of life.

Judge Murray Snow said Mr. Penzone’s goal was laudable, but concluded his proposal lacked the specifics, scope and long-term goals of the original plan.

The current plan includes using an alert system to help supervisors identify problematic behavior by officers and offering training to confront implicit bias and increase cultural competency within MCSO.

During the development of Mr. Penzone’s replacement proposal, MCSO failed to adequately consult with a community advisory board set up to help improve trust in the sheriff’s office, Mr. Snow wrote.

MCSO did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

The agency has been dogged for years by problems with biased policing. Its latest publicly available traffic stop analysis concluded Hispanic drivers are more likely to be searched and arrested by sheriff’s deputies than white drivers.

MCSO will remain under court supervision while it tries to remedy the constitutional violations found in the profiling verdict. It has not yet been deemed totally in compliance with court-ordered overhauls of its traffic patrol and internal affairs operations.

The agency has been deemed 97% compliant in the first phase of its traffic-operations overhaul and 75% compliant on the second phase. It’s at 90% or above in both phases of the internal-affairs overhaul.

Fear of being unfairly scrutinized as part of the court-ordered overhauls has led MCSO deputies to make 52% fewer traffic stops from 2015 through 2018, though

MCSO said the number of stops has increased in recent months.

The taxpayer bill from the 11-year-old profiling case is expected to reach $150 million by Summer 2020. The spending is expected to continue until MCSO is fully compliant for three straight years.

Mr. Snow also transferred control of community meetings aimed at rebuilding confidence in MCSO from Mr. Penzone to an official who monitors the agency on behalf of the court.

The change was made after Mr. Snow raised questions about how MCSO was conducting the meetings, such as scheduling a recent gathering during a weekday morning, rather than holding it in the evenings when more people might be available. MCSO later moved the start time to the evening.

It marked the second time in the profiling case that responsibility for the community meetings was transferred from MCSO to the court monitor.

Five years ago, the monitor took over that duty after MCSO, under Mr. Arpaio’s leadership, opposed having to hold the meetings. At the time, MCSO was criticized for scheduling meetings at times and locations where the public was not as likely to attend.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.