U.S. Marshal David Gonzales is a classy, tough lawman, the kind of fellow who can cite 16th-century English philosopher Francis Bacon while announcing the collaring of 239 fugitives, as he did during a recent press conference at the Sandra Day O'Connor federal courthouse downtown.
"If we do not maintain justice, justice will not maintain us," quoted Gonzales, laying some, er, Bacon on the reporters present in his office.
Gonzales, who was appointed to his post by George W. Bush and retained by the Obama administration, said that 100 officers from 30 different agencies helped in what he dubbed "Operation Justice II."
Normally, a multi-agency fugitive task force headed by the Marshals Service nets about 20 to 25 fugitives a week. So why don't the marshals do similar roundups more often?
"We wish we could do this every week," he said. "But the bottom line is not the federal government, not the state government, or the local governments have the resources to do these types of projects every week."
The operation, which netted sex offenders, burglary and robbery suspects, and those with assault warrants, is just the sort of thing you want law enforcement engaged in: Quietly, proactively taking lawbreakers off the streets.
The effort stands in stark contrast to the showy bluster of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's regular anti-immigrant dragnets, especially since, as Gonzales noted, Maricopa County has about 40,000 warrants outstanding.
It has traditionally been the sheriff's job to serve those warrants, but the MCSO has long since abandoned its duties in this area, having axed its warrants division.
The marshal's operation also out-performed a Hollywood-style set of raids last week in Arizona by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE honcho John Morton flew in from D.C. to be present at a Phoenix press conference planned long in advance, where he announced that around 800 agents had nabbed 47 criminal suspects in a human-trafficking ring operating through five different shuttle companies in Tucson and Phoenix.
Do the math. For every one supposed bad guy, it took about 17 officers in ICE's operation to do the trick. Whereas, every one officer in the marshal's operation scored at least two fugitives, on average.
Add to this that ICE tipped off at least a half-dozen national news outlets several days in advance of the raids so they could be present for Morton's media stunt. When I asked Morton at that press conference why he had done this, possibly risking the lives of his men and the public, he declined to comment on ICE's "media relations" and insisted that the results of the ICE bust "speak for themselves."
They sure do, especially in hindsight, compared to the marshal's operation.
Morton not only risked public safety in his bid for press, he scared the bejesus out of the Latino community, which had learned of the takedown 24 hours in advance. Coming on the heels of passage in the state House of Russell Pearce's police state/Hispanic-hunting bill SB1070, the federal government's action reinforced to Hispanics that while they live in Arizona, they live in a state of fear — whether from the feds or from local cops.
Both Morton and U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke hotly denied at the press event that the ICE raids had anything to do with SB1070. But they're not operating in a vacuum. Arizona is now a tinderbox on the edge of civil discord. Morton's pricey grandstanding — considering the unnamed cost of 800 agents working on this — did not help matters.
Alfredo Gutierrez, the wise not-so-old man of Latino activism in this state and a former Arizona Senate majority leader, criticized the ICE action as a "Potemkin village," one he believes was meant to bolster SB1070.
See, the Washington Post reported that ICE has a quota: 400,000 total deportations this year, criminal and non-criminal aliens alike. This despite the constant assurances by Morton and his boss, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, that they've prioritized going after the worst of the worst.
"The Obama administration," Gutierrez asserted to me, "from the very beginning has concluded that in order to be able to talk about immigration reform, [it] has to be able to show [its] enforcement credibility. That's why Napolitano's there."
Indeed, Napolitano was chosen to head the DHS because, as one of the Dems' few border hawks, she could deflect attacks from the right on immigration reform, of which the administration's also let her take charge.
I don't totally buy Gutierrez's assessment, as ICE's operation did take out some criminal suspects. But I agree that ICE engaged in overkill and in overt media manipulation.
Then again, what do you expect from bureaucrats and politicians?
There were a couple of weird things about that press conference that Gonzales had nothing to do with.