Joe Arpaio Opponent Mike Stauffer and the (Possible) End of the Reality-Show Sheriff's Office

We had a chance this morning to grab a cup of coffee with Scottsdale Lieutenant Mike Stauffer, who is currently campaigning to unseat Joe Arpaio as the Republican nominee in next year's race for Maricopa County Sheriff.

In short, what we took away from our hour-long chat is this: Stauffer wants to put an end to the pompous, reality TV-based culture that currently plagues the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office under 79-year-old Arpaio and get back to doing the job of a county sheriff's office -- which doesn't include buddying up to Steven Seagal and Ted Nugent, and chasing illegal immigrants through the stock rooms of Burlington Coat Factories.

Rather, Stauffer says, the focus of the MCSO -- when it comes to illegal immigration -- should be stopping the criminal enterprises that smuggle people, drugs, and weapons in and out of the United States, not on "ineffective" immigration sweeps that often use pricey MCSO resources but yield little more than the arrests of 10-or-so illegal immigrants.

"Immigration sweeps are totally ineffective," he says. "The focus needs to be on the organized crime component [of illegal immigration]: the human smuggling, the drug smuggling, the weapons smuggling."  

Stauffer yesterday posted on his Facebook page a note about Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070. Check it out here. However, nowhere in the note does he mention how he personally feels about it. Curious, we sent his campaign an email asking for his personal feelings on the law.

Rather than send us an email with a manicured response, Stauffer wanted to sit down and chat.

Even when pressed, Stauffer wouldn't tell us how he feels about the law because, he says, as a potential sheriff, his opinion doesn't matter.

"As sheriff it's not my place to agree or disagree with a law that's been enacted by the state legislature," he says. "We've had 18-20 years [under Arpaio] of being convinced that the sheriff has some sort of influence over what laws are to be passed. That's not the sheriff's job.

"Whether I agree or disagree personally with a particular law really shouldn't matter. I will enforce all the laws that are on the books as equitably as I can."

He did, however, give us his take on the new law.

"What everybody should understand is that what we've come to know as SB 1070 is nothing new. There's no new law in there," he says. "It's enhanced, kind of, with some language that points it in the immigration direction. But these laws have been enforced by local law enforcement for many years.

"I'll enforce those laws. The interpretation, based on what Judge [Susan] Bolton decided and the Ninth Circuit [Court of Appeals] -- their interpretation and what they struck down -- I'll abide by that...whether I like it or not."

As far as the law potentially leading to racial profiling, Stauffer says law enforcement is already profiling people -- but it's called "criminal profiling." Profiling someone based on their race, however, is something he says he "will not tolerate."

We also discussed medical marijuana. Unlike Governor Jan Brewer, Attorney General Tom Horne, and Gilbert Police Chief Tim Dorn, Stauffer says he'll respect the decision of voters when it comes to enforcing the state's new medical weed program.

"If the legislature, or people of the state decide that medical marijuana is the way to go, as sheriff, the laws will be enforced that way.

"There's still drug enforcement, if you don't have a medical marijuana card you're in violation," he says.

Stauffer says that while illegal immigration is a serious concern of his, it's not his only concern when it comes to county-wide law enforcement.

He says one of his goals is to improve response times in rural, unincorporated parts of the county -- ya know, what would be his actual jurisdiction -- which he says currently range from 3-4 four hours to never.

"Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa -- they all have their own police departments," he says. "There's no reason for sheriff's deputies to be in those areas unless we're part of a task force or we're helping them out."

If Stauffer were sheriff, the MCSO's role in cities that have their own police departments will be to help them with any specialized teams or equipment in the MCSO's arsenal, but not to interfere.  

"[The sheriff's job] is to help the police departments in the incorporated areas while still giving my primary focus to rural unincorporated areas...where my real jurisdiction will be," he says.

When asked about his biggest criticism of Arpaio, Stauffer says"where do I start."

"My largest concern is that he's distorted and perverted the authority of the office of the sheriff. He has taken law enforcement where it should never go," he says. "The whole atmosphere that he has created [at the MCSO] is one of 'I don't have to play by the rules, I only have to play by the rules that I want to play by.' That's not the role of a law enforcement leader."

We extended an invitation to Arpaio to sit down with us and respond to some of Stauffer's criticism. The sheriff didn't get back to us.

For more on Stauffer, visit his campaign's Facebook page here.

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James King
Contact: James King