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Maricopa Warrants Go Unserved as Sheriff's Office Denies Responsibility Before Legislature

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There were certainly no surprises from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office yesterday during a legislative hearing on unserved felony and misdemeanor warrants.

Back in November of 2007, Paul Chagolla, then the spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, told the Scottsdale Times that talk of unserved warrants:

...appeared to be designed to "deflect scrutiny" on immigration issues and "relieve the pressure felt by other state law enforcement agencies for not aggressively acting upon immigration issues."

There appears to be little question Chagolla's right about the first point -- critics have, somewhat arbitrarily, linked immigration and warrants.

Besides, the duly elected sheriff gets to choose his law enforcement priorities, and Arpaio has made his opinion well known. For example, Chagolla also told the monthly newspaper in an e-mail obtained by New Times that the sheriff wouldn't agree to an interview on the subject because Arpaio thinks the subject of fugitive warrants is a "tired" one.

Nevertheless, Chagolla, now a deputy chief, found himself standing before the state Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday defending his boss on that very subject.

Of course, Arpaio could easily grab responsibility for these warrants. State law even appears to direct him to do just that. It's Number Two on his legislated to-do list:

11-441. Powers and duties

A. The sheriff shall:

1. Preserve the peace.

2. Arrest and take before the nearest magistrate for examination all persons who attempt to commit or who have committed a public offense.

Apparently, a cackle of lawyers have decided that county sheriff's don't have to serve all of the county's misdemeanor and felony warrants, which number about 39,000. It's up the sheriff. Still, you have to wonder why the counties are the repositories of warrant information, if they aren't supposed to do something useful with that information. (Full disclosure: While surfing the Web this morning for info on warrants, we found the link to the above law on an anti-Arpaio, pro Democratic Party Web site. The statute, however, is bi-partisan).

At the legislature yesterday, the sheriff's office again denied responsibility for serving the warrants. Republic reporter Casey Newton reports that Chagolla:

...said the sheriff was not responsible for serving warrants for any other agency.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, self-proclaimed America's Toughest Sheriff, passes the buck on a problem that -- according to this old Arizona Republic story kindly reprinted by the Nogales Unified School District -- has been plaguing the county for the sheriff's entire four-plus terms in office.

Although most warrants are for minor crimes, police believe picking up low-level offenders has an exponential positive effect on society. Most of us will never have a connection to a murderer, but identity thieves, violent drunks or burglars? You've likely encountered one of the three.

All the attention on warrants has had some effect, thankfully: In May, there were about 2,000 more than now.

Here's some other coverage of yesterday's testimony:

Channel 5 (KPHO-TV)

Associated Press

Random Musings blog

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