Due to the efforts of local activists lead by Phoenix litigation support investigator Jameson Johnson, St. Mary's Food Bank has suspended the use of off-duty sheriff's deputies to help direct traffic at two of the charity's facilities.
St. Mary's spokeswoman Beverly Damore confirmed that the organization's President and CEO Terry Shannon had made the decision to discontinue the use of off-duty MCSO on December 24. The decision came after Johnson contacted Shannon and expressed his concern that the presence MCSO patrol cars and deputies might intimidate those seeking help from St. Mary's.
Damore stated there was "no malicious intent" on the part of St. Mary's in contracting with off-duty MCSO personnel. She could not say how many deputies were used, but said this was the first year St. Mary's had contracted with any law enforcement agency for assistance in directing traffic during the holidays.
"It was to help us because of the increase in the volume of traffic we were experiencing," she explained. "We used them for the three days before Thanksgiving, and what would have amounted to about two and a-half days or so just before [Shannon] made the decision to discontinue their use."
The MCSO deputies were posted at St. Mary's Thomas Road location and at its Glendale food bank, according to Damore, who also stated that the deputies were paid $11,000 in total. She said someone had suggested using the MCSO for traffic control in discussions prior to contracting with the deputies.
During the holidays, Damore said that the food bank operates almost as a drive-through, with lines of cars running through the charity's parking lots. Overall, St. Mary's distributed some 68 million pounds of food in the last fiscal year, Damore related. Daily, the food bank provides enough food to prepare 300,000 meals, she said.
St. Mary's also provides emergency food boxes to those in need, which are very popular during the holidays. Damore indicated that St. Mary's had distributed 40,000 of these food boxes during November, and expected to do another 40,000 for the full month of December.
Damore said St. Mary's had no estimate on how many of those seeking help might be Latino, but it's a sure bet that many in the Latino community, which has been terrorized by MCSO anti-immigration raids and the MCSO's racial profiling tactics, might be scared away by the presence of MCSO deputies.
Which begs the question: Why would St. Mary's, which does so much good work in the community, make such a misstep?
Johnson chalked the blunder up to St. Mary's execs "not completely grasping what it means to poor people who live on 31st and Thomas to see those black and gold patrol cars in front of the food bank."
That said, he welcomed the change, and encouraged people to get involved with St. Mary's through volunteering and donations.
"We're not checking IDs," Arpaio told the Rep. "Every time people see us, they're making phone calls, and it's sad...There seems to be some paranoia out there."
No duh, Joe. Your agency is one of the most reviled in the country, and you have permanently poisoned the well with local Hispanics and anyone else in Arizona who gives a whit about human rights. It truly is a "sad" situation, one entirely of your own making.
Update: Activist and radio host Carlos Galindo sent me this video, posted before St. Mary's had made the decision not to use MCSO deputies in the future. St. Mary's gets credit for correcting their blunder, but the video does illustrate how easily people could have been intimidated by the deputies' presence.
Carlos Galindo's YouTube video of the MCSO at St. Mary's Food Bank. St. Mary's is no longer using the deputies.
Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.