We spoke to Scottsdale Lieutenant Mike Stauffer this afternoon about the shooting at Tent City early yesterday morning.
In case you missed it, click here to read about a Tent City inmate who was hit with shrapnel after a bullet was fired at the tents from about 120 yards away from the jail's southwest fence.
Stauffer is challenging Joe Arpaio in next year's primary for Maricopa County sheriff. If he were running the show at the MCSO right now, he says, a random person wouldn't even be allowed close enough to the jail to fire a bullet at the inmates.
"It just goes to show how unsecure this facility is," Stauffer tells New Times. "The inmates are sleeping close enough to a street that they could get hit by shrapnel....there's no perimeter security. The sheriff has a responsibility to at least see to it that inmates aren't shot."
If he were sheriff, Stauffer wouldn't shut down Tent City, but one of the many changes he would make includes locking down the roads that lead into the jail facility. Currently, anyone can drive a car onto the sprawling MCSO campus and get within about 50 yards of the Tent City fences. In fact, people can get close enough to throw drugs and other contraband over the fences to the inmates inside.
"That place needs to be secured," he says. "I'd put a lot more [guards] and create good perimeter security. I'd lockdown the streets around Tent City so there are real, physical barriers between the prisoners and the outside world. That's the way it needs to be."
As for Arpaio's famous line when criticized about the conditions of Tent City -- "if soldiers fighting in Iraq can sleep in tents, why can't inmates" -- Stauffer says "he's lying."
Soldiers, he says, mostly sleep in "containerized housing units," not "Korean War-era tents" like the tents set up in Arpaio's jail.
If he becomes sheriff, Stauffer says he'd replace the tents with CHUs, which offer climate control. He says they're cheap and would lead to fewer heat related illnesses that could potentially be the basis for lawsuits filed against the MCSO.
Tent City was built in response to a court decision in the 1990s when jails were overcrowded. The decision would have forced the early release of inmates unless the MCSO could find somewhere else to put them.
Stauffer says there isn't overcrowding in the jails anymore, and there are even several free cells within some of the MCSO's indoor jails.
"If the need for Tent City doesn't exist anymore, I would probably look at re-tasking the facility," he says. He wouldn't shut it down, though.
"It would be for first-timers and people who have committed minor misdemeanor crimes. They're the ones who would be the most affected by a hard time in jail," he says. "The whole point of Tent City would be a boot camp-style facility, but it won't be [inmates] laying around in these outdated tents from the Korean War era."
Stauffer says inmates would be forced to do chores and take classes -- like drug and alcohol or anger management courses. He would even introduce other courses like history classes.
"These people aren't lifers, they're there a maximum of two years, so they have to be released with some sort of skills so that they don't return," he says. "If we just let them sit around and do nothing, or teach each other new 'skills' -- you know, criminal 'skills' -- we're just creating repeat offenders. We're not doing anything to impact the recidivism rate, which is part of what we should be doing. We should give the people in these jails another choice when they get out other than commit crimes."
He says the population of tent city would be carefully screened to make sure its inmates aren't now -- or have been in the past -- a security threat. As it stands now, he says, an inmate could have done hard time in the Department of Corrections in the past for a serious crime, but is in Tent City on a minor offense, and could be designated a low security risk based on the minor crime for which he was sent to Tent City, with no consideration of prior crimes.
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But the jail itself is only one of Stauffer's concerns when it comes to America's self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff."
"The other thing that concerns me is that [Arpaio] seems to have a preoccupation with underwear," Stauffer says about Arpaio's Elvis-themed panty party earlier this week. "That's just creepy -- and inappropriate. I really think that a professional law enforcement leader -- acting like he's Tom Jones, or Elvis Presley out there -- it's inappropriate."
The party was to celebrate Tent City's 18th birthday -- a rather arbitrary anniversary for which to have a party.
When asked why Arpaio wouldn't just wait two years and celebrate the jail's 20th anniversary, Stauffer jokes "because he knows I'll be sheriff then."