Frontera Fund News

Inside MCSO Officer Training Sessions


Sparked by the Melendres v. Arpaio ruling, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is retraining its staff in bias-free policing.

One thought strikes you when you read the new police training documents for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office: Was this written by America’s Toughest Sheriff or Mister Rogers?

The lectures are sprinkled with such advice as: Learn a few sentences in Spanish and establish positive relationships in the community. A little effort can go a long way toward building rapport.

It’s as if Sheriff Joe Arpaio suddenly donned a pink cardigan and started singing, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Arpaio spent years building his MCSO into an immigrant-hunting machine whose default setting was “Target Latinos.” Its modus operandi was to stop vehicles for minor traffic violations and investigate the occupants’ immigration status.

Then the Melendres v. Arpaio case pulled the plug on this machine. The court deemed the MCSO guilty of unconstitutional racial profiling and ordered Arpaio to halt the illegal traffic stops and retrain officers to abide by the U.S. Constitution.

But as U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow later noted, Arpaio resisted the injunction and did not communicate the court order to his officers, so the MCSO’s racial profiling persisted for another 18 months. As a result, Snow initiated civil contempt proceedings against Arpaio and threatened him with criminal contempt charges. The civil contempt hearing is scheduled for April 2015.

Meanwhile, on Judge Snow’s orders, an assigned Court Monitor team, together with the ACLU of Arizona and the MCSO, designed courses to coach MCSO officers in bias-free policing and the Fourth Amendment. That training began in the fall and winter of 2014 with 18-hour training sessions. It will continue with an additional 10 hours of training annually.

The ACLU of Arizona has provided the Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund with the actual PowerPoint presentations given to officers during the trainings. The documents provide insight into what will hopefully become the MCSO’s new philosophy. Here are a few of the highlights: