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Who Is Paul Penzone, Arpaio’s Opponent?

paul penzone
MCSO Sheriff Paul Penzone

“Anybody but Joe.” That’s who many Arizonans will be voting for this November in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s race. A recent poll reveals that Democratic candidate Paul Penzone is edging out Arpaio, 48 percent to 44 percent, in this highly competitive campaign.

But will Penzone bring the change we’re looking for? Who is he besides “not Joe”? Here’s the lowdown.

Bio: Penzone served 21 years as a Phoenix police officer, working under cover in narcotics, on a federal task force with the Drug Enforcement Administration, and behind a desk overseeing budgets. He ran the Silent Witness program during the Baseline Killer and Serial Shooter investigations, plus started Testigo Silencioso, a Spanish version of Silent Witness, during the uproar surrounding SB 1070.

After retiring in 2009 and working with nonprofits, Penzone decided to run for sheriff in 2012 because “I feel like our sheriff has lost sight of what it means to serve people, to put their needs above his own,” he said in an August interview. Though he is running again this year as a Democrat, he has historically seen himself as an Independent and downplays the political aspect of the position.

“It’s time for us to move forward with new leadership – leadership that is innovative, that is progressive, that focuses solely on safety and security, enforcing the laws and to try to eliminate that political element that’s been infused too much recently,” Penzone said in an interview with KFYI’s Mike Broomhead.

His vision is “a community where law enforcement is focused on our safety first and foremost, and that anything above and beyond that, that I would consider extracurricular or propaganda that we’ve seen in the past is no longer a part of the process,” he told the podcast Grand Coffee Talk.

Penzone on immigration: “First and foremost, there will not be raids,” Penzone said at a 2012 meeting with Latino activists and community members. “My focus will be on drug traffickers, human smugglers, and the problem with human slavery… My expertise lies in dismantling organizations. That’s what I did in an undercover capacity… I believe that professionals in law enforcement should be focusing on organizations that make money off the blood, sweat and tears of others… There’s only so much money that can be spent to address deportations. I am not going to waste those dollars on people who are here pursuing citizenship or job opportunities and other things and not involved in criminal activities.” 

On the steps he’ll take to repair the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office: “I’m a firm believer that attitudes are contagious,” Penzone has said. “And as a leader that’s my responsibility to go in and say, ‘We will be an organization that is highly professional, with the highest level of integrity that treats people with respect and dignity.’ Then I have to identify and surround myself with the most qualified and deserving individuals who are given the opportunity to serve in high ranking positions to carry out that mission and be accountable to me…”

“[But] if you’ve been in a culture for 20 years,” he continues, “and you’ve been taught a particular way, the saying is you don’t know what you don’t know. So we have to train people and get them to embrace being part of the positive, forward movement, to get excited about getting better at your job, learning to be a better investigator and seeing that there are rewards to that… [U]nfortunately there’s a lot of people who’ve been there a long time, and their attitudes reflect their behaviors, and their behaviors are not going to change. Therefore it’s not going to fit within my mould of what that organization’s capable of. So they get the choice: Either come with us, or head in another direction away from us.”

“But in doing that you have to develop a very aggressive quality control unit… Every day I need to have people go out there, whether it’s following up on a traffic stop if you’ve been stopped by a deputy… and saying, ‘Tell me about that experience – the good, the bad and the ugly.’… [If] you’ve been booked into jail or processed by a detention officer, I’ll have representatives go and speak to you to assess the services and how we’re doing our job. It’s not always to catch somebody short. It’s as much to develop proper training…”

On detention: “Detention centers are not intended to be a luxury palace,” Penzone said in an interview with Phoenix New Times reporter Stephen Lemons. “It should be an uncomfortable environment. But the detention itself is the uncomfortable part of it. It shouldn’t be a mistreatment or an abuse or neglect. When we have people with mental disorders of some sort or a handicap, we have a responsibility to give them the things they need to keep them safe… Detention officers need to understand their role, that it’s objective, it’s not subjective, that any abuse of force is not acceptable, and that there will be ramifications for those abuses.”

On Joe Arpaio’s smear campaign that implies Penzone abused his ex-wife: “I never at any time harmed my ex-wife or any woman in my life,” Penzone said at a September press conference.

On repairing relations with the community: “Right now good people fear that those in uniform are going to stop us and possibly violate our civil rights,” Penzone said in 2012. “And no one is impacted more than the Latino community. And it should never be that way… Law enforcement cannot have any success if the community does not believe and have the confidence in what you’re doing and trusts that you’re doing it the right way. And there is nowhere in the world, let alone in Arizona, that you can alienate a specific portion of your population, treat them in a fashion that is unforgivable, and think that you’re serving anyone properly, because we’re not. It’s unacceptable.”