By Detective Alix Olson, Madison Police Department, Wisconsin
In my 29-year career as a police officer and detective with the Madison Police Department, in Madison, Wisconsin, I have witnessed and experienced many instances of hatred, violence and racism. In most cases, those negative things were not initiated by law enforcement; sometimes, unfortunately, they were. The 95% of us who sincerely strive to “serve and protect” are tarnished by the 5% of us who intentionally “disserve and destroy.” Nowhere is this more apparent in current American law enforcement than in Maricopa County, Arizona, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has taken the law into his own hands, at the expense of the Constitution, professional ethics, and proper police conduct. Earlier this year, the mayor of Phoenix wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney general’s office, asking the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division to investigate Arpaio’s aggressive illegal immigration crackdowns. Mayor Phil Brown wrote that Arpaio’s sweeps show “a pattern and practice of conduct that includes discriminatory harassment, improper stops, searches and arrests.”
Using local law enforcement to enforce Federal immigration laws, as Sheriff Arpaio is doing, weakens the very community links local police and sheriffs’ departments work so hard daily to maintain and build upon. Having community members who are afraid of local police should not be the goal of a department; instead, a far more wide-reaching and positive effect is gained by police-community trust, interaction and collaboration. This might sound too much like social work to Sheriff Arpaio, whose top-down, dictatorial methods favor humiliation, degradation, prisoner abuse, racial profiling, terrorizing Latino residents, and cavorting with local neo-Nazi groups. And according to a 2008 policy report on effective law enforcement by the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian-leaning watchdog group based in Phoenix, Sheriff Arpaio’s department “falls seriously short of fulfilling its mission.” The report found that Maricopa County has “diverted resources away from basic law-enforcement functions to highly publicized immigration sweeps, which are ineffective in policing illegal immigration.”
As we all know, police need the community’s trust to help solve crime and make our country stronger and safer for everyone living here, regardless of immigration status. I’m sure Sheriff Arpaio’s department is having a terrible time finding Latino witnesses and victims of crimes willing to report incidents or testify, but that supposes that he cares about them enough to take reports or help develop their cases for court in the first place. Dehumanizing is another strategy used by Sheriff Arpaio, parading inmates through the streets in funky clothes, “sheltering” them in sweltering desert tents, treating them like vermin, forgetting that he is as bound to them by a universal bond of humanity as much as he is bent on eradicating them.
When chief executives of local law enforcement agencies effectively target subgroups of persons who are not committing crimes, they not only alienate the community, they make it much harder for their agencies to recruit high caliber persons with integrity who reflect the faces of the community to take on the very hard job of policing. A sheriff like Joe Arpaio must have the hardest of times making those hires, and the more the world hears about him, the harder it is for more grounded, public spirited police agencies to hire the best of the best.
American law enforcement must demand the removal of Sheriff Arpaio from duty. He is truly a menace to the residents of Arizona, and our country. Simply stated, Sheriff Arpaio has marred the reputation of law enforcement for generations to come.
His warped sense of “justice” has no place in our society, unless we support Japanese internment camps, the ghetto-ization of African-Americans, and the deaths of countless Latinos attempting to survive their own countries’ destruction at the hands of US foreign and economic policies by struggling to come here to live, work and protect their families. I call upon the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as the US Department of Justice, to work diligently to remove him from the office he has squandered with racism and hate. Those of us in law enforcement working hard to build bridges of respect and trust with our communities don’t need anotherTheophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor erasing our progress.