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Arpaio stops using Phoenix light rail to move inmates

PHOENIX – The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office disbanded the new “Con Rail” program Thursday after only two inmate transports.

The cost-cutting plan announced Tuesday to use the Metro light rail to transport extradited inmates from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to the Fourth Avenue jail was met with criticism and unrest. Both Metro officials and riders expressed concern over the possibility of riding with inmates.

Arpaio said the plan would save $72,000 in airport parking fees during his current four-year term, but airport officials said the Sheriff’s Office already had free parking. Arpaio said Tuesday that he would reconsider the plan if he received assurance that his deputies would park at the airport free of charge.

According to a Sheriff’s Office press release, Arpaio got what he wanted Thursday as the city of Phoenix provided them with four free parking passes.

“Utilizing the light rail would have been a viable and safe alternative for transporting inmates,” Arpaio said. “Since the city has been kind enough to issue free parking, we will got back to transporting inmates the way we used to, for now.”

According to the Sheriff’s Office, their free parking passes were taken away in July 2007 and deputies were charged $25 per day to park during inmate extraditions.

Airport officials maintained since the announcement of the plan that all state law enforcement agencies had access to free and secure parking.

Prior to the announcement of the “Con Rail” plan, the Sheriff’s Office held one free parking pass, Deborah Ostreicher, spokeswoman for Sky Harbor said Thursday. After the announcement, Arpaio notified airport officials that four additional passes would meet his needs, Ostreicher said.

Metro officials were satisfied with the resolution Thursday after the sheriff’s announcement produced a steady stream of phone calls and e-mails from light rail riders expressing their concern.

“Metro is pleased that an alternative solution has been reached,” Metro spokeswoman Hillary Foose said. “Ultimately we hope that passengers continue to feel safe and secure and enjoy their ride on Metro.”

Arpaio personally transported an inmate on the light rail Tuesday night and planned to transport another, the last, on Thursday, the release said.

“I appreciate the cooperation we have received by the city of Phoenix to alleviate this light rail controversy,” Arpaio said.

The release also said that Arpaio plans to leave the possibility of inmate transport on the light rail open for future consideration if circumstances require it.

Foose said the potential for a return of “Con Rail” remains a cause for concern for Metro and that the Metro board of directors may put forward a resolution to request the Sheriff’s Office not use light rail for inmate transport.

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