Former Arizona police chief says ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s obsession with arresting immigrants spiked crime

A former Arizona police chief who publicly clashed with ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio while their tenures coincided has spoken out about the consequences of Arpaio’s single-minded focus on immigration enforcement, saying such tactics “harm public safety.”

Arpaio was pardoned by President Donald Trump Friday after being convicted of criminal contempt for violating a court order to stop racially profiling Latinos. The pardon sparked outrage across the political spectrum.

Over his nearly 24 years as sheriff, Arpaio had racked up a legacy of lawsuits, inmate deaths, and allegations of rights abuses and constitutional violations.

In an interview with The Crime Report Tuesday, former Mesa Police Chief George Gascón, who now serves as San Francisco District Attorney, said Arpaio’s fixation with arresting undocumented immigrants left the sheriff’s office drained of resources that were necessary to investigate crimes.

Gascónon also said that during his tenure at the Mesa police department between 2006 and 2009, his city saw a reduction in both violent and property crime. Yet just across the city lines, in the areas of Maricopa County that were policed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, “crime consistently went up,” Gascón said.

A report by the conservative, Arizona-based Goldwater Institute partly confirmed Gascón’s analysis, determining that reported violent crimes in Maricopa County rose by 69% and homicides leapt 166% between 2004 and 2007, meanwhile Mesa’s violent crime rate dropped by 11% and its homicide rate remained stable. Over the entire span of Arpaio’s tenure, however, crime overall tended to fluctuate year by year, with property crime dropping significantly, while violent crime remained stable or dropped slightly in certain years.

Gascón attributed the discrepancy between Mesa’s and Maricopa County’s crime rates to the trust levels the separate law enforcement agencies had cultivated with their communities. Mesa residents were willing to report crime to their local police department, Gascón said, but many Maricopa County residents were hesitant to contact their sheriff’s department.

It’s an argument commonly made by proponents of so-called “sanctuary city” policies, which many jurisdictions employ to limit their local police departments’ cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Sanctuary cities believe that tasking local police officers with enforcing federal immigration law sows fear throughout immigrant communities, preventing them from interacting with law enforcement, reporting crime, or testifying as witnesses in criminal cases.

The issue has been thrust into the political limelight by President Donald Trump, whose administration has sought to crack down on sanctuary cities by withholding grant funding to police departments. In response to the efforts, multiple cities have sued the Trump administration.

According to Gascón, immigration enforcement by local police has demonstrably counterproductive results. He recalled that during his time as Mesa police chief, he was once told of an undocumented woman from Guatemala who was assaulted and raped while she lived in a Maricopa County jurisdiction, but feared seeking medical treatment or reporting the crime to police.

“So you had a woman who had been brutally raped, needed medical assistance, and really needed to have law enforcement investigate the case, but who didn’t want to do any of those things because of her immigration status,” Gascón said.

“We came to find out later that the person who sexually assaulted her had likely been involved in other previous sexual assaults and eventually assaulted and raped another woman. So this is an example of why you don’t want community members to be afraid to report a crime. When that happens, the criminal elements in the community believe they can act with impunity because certain victims, and certain witnesses, are not going to report them.”