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Impact of Arpaio’s crime sweeps unclear

The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Republic

PHOENIX – Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has touted his recent “crime-suppression” sweeps in immigrant gathering spots and neighborhoods as necessary to lower crime and send a message that illegal immigrants won’t be tolerated.

But the results of his first six major operations are mixed, according to a review of crime statistics by The Arizona Republic. And street-corner gathering spots for day laborers are still bustling, sometimes just days after one of his highly publicized sweeps.

The sheriff’s stated goals for the sweeps he began in March are to improve public safety and suppress crime, plus drive out illegal immigrants.

The crime reduction, at least, doesn’t appear to be major.

Records show that in four of five smaller areas where sweeps occurred, calls for assistance increased or were relatively flat right after the raid compared with the same period a year earlier. In the other area, they declined.

In neighborhoods of north and east Phoenix, data show that total violent crimes increased after deputies conducted saturation raids. In Fountain Hills, sheriff’s statistics show deputies dealt with more major crimes this June than they did in June 2007, yet fewer overall crimes.

The six operations involved hundreds of sworn deputies putting in thousands of work days. They arrested about 400 people, including more than 200 suspected illegal immigrants. There are an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona, with most in metropolitan Phoenix. Assuming 300,000 live in the Maricopa County, the saturation patrols netted only a tiny fraction of the total.

Arpaio argues that his operations have scared many immigrants out of the state, a fact backed anecdotally by interviews with some day laborers. But it may be impossible to separate the effects of sweeps from other factors, such as the economy, employer sanctions, anti-smuggling enforcement and stepped-up federal detention policies.

Arpaio’s actions have brought him strong support from many, but also strident criticism.

“I love Joe. He’s the kind of guy we need,” said Russell Schmunk, 85, of Cave Creek. “We don’t need no pansies, guys who slap your wrist . . . I hope he sweeps it clean, sweeps everybody out.”

Slade Grove, a bakery owner who signed a petition asking deputies to raid day-labor hangouts on Cave Creek Road, said he’s satisfied.

“Arpaio sent a message that he was going to enforce the laws,” Grove said.

Others, including civil libertarians and Latino leaders, claim the tactic amounts to unconstitutional racial profiling. Arpaio denies the charge.

Melissa Jones, an employee at a cleaners in east Phoenix, said Arpaio’s raid in her neighborhood had nothing to do with stopping crime.

“Prejudice. Being racist. That’s what it’s all about,” Jones said. “I think he needs to do his job and get real criminals off the streets. All (immigrants) are doing is trying to make money for survival.”

Guadalupe Mayor Rebecca Jimenez has characterized an April sweep in her community as a media stunt that wound up hassling local residents over minor traffic violations. Arpaio subsequently decided to cancel his office’s law-enforcement contract with Guadalupe, and the town then sued, arguing he must finish out the contract through 2010.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has requested a Justice Department investigation of Arpaio’s campaign against illegal immigration. In an August speech, Gordon blasted the Sheriff’s Office for undermining law enforcement by arresting undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime.

“If the victim of a sexual assault is in the country illegally, it’s more important for us to catch the rapist than to turn the victim over to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement),” the mayor said.

Arpaio spokesman Capt. Paul Chagolla said the sweeps are part of a comprehensive approach to crime that includes illegal immigration. “There is an impact on crime” when one considers the broader approach, which also involves jail screening and the human-smuggling unit, he said.

Arpaio, who declined to be interviewed for the Republic’s story, is sticking to the sweeps.

“The people of this county, poll after poll, said they want local law enforcement to be involved in fighting this increased problem of illegal immigration,” he said in April. “Their voice is what I listen to.”

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