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Arpaio's Successor, Sheriff Paul Penzone Aims To Create A New Legacy


We're going to return to a subject we mentioned earlier, which is President Trump's decision to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio whose aggressive handling of prison inmates and illegal immigrants made him a hero in some quarters and cost the county millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements.

Now, this is one of those sensitive subjects touching on race, ethnicity and law enforcement conduct that kids might want to talk about when they go back to class this fall. So we'll talk about that in our Barbershop roundtable coming up.

But first, a perspective on the pardon and Arpaio's legacy from his successor Paul Penzone. Mr. Penzone, who himself had a two-decade career in law enforcement, denied Arpaio's bid for a seventh term as Maricopa County sheriff by promising to create a different culture in the department. And he's with us on the line now. Sheriff, thanks so much for being with us.

PAUL PENZONE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: You said earlier this week in an interview that if the president were to pardon Joe Arpaio, that his action would have to be respected. Now that it has happened, what is your reaction? What does respecting it mean?

PENZONE: Well, you know, the authority that we have within the nation that, you know, as citizens we've all agreed upon, which is the authority for a president to pardon those who he or she sees fit. We must respect it because it was a rule that was already withstanding. The dynamic that I must deal with now is a community at-large, not only how they are impacted or how they view this because there was a law enforcement professional who was pardon for some egregious actions against the court, but also the men and women within the organization who are still working in - for lack of a better description - paying the debt because of those actions. And it's adversely affected their career.

And I'll take it a step further. There are individuals within the organization that follow the lead of my predecessor and who have lost their careers or left their careers under bad circumstances because of those actions. So a lot of folks lives have been impacted, but no one more importantly than the community that was the target of his intentions.

MARTIN: You know, on the other hand, you know, judging just from the reaction that President Trump got at the rally that he staged in Phoenix, it does seem that this is a popular decision with a lot of people.

PENZONE: No, I would disagree from this context. It was popular in that room. And we know that room was folks that felt the same way and had the same passions. But in the election, you know, I defeated my predecessor by 13 points. I was not the reason for that success. It was the community. Both Republicans, Democrats - oh, I should say all three - and independents who all voted very aggressively in that election because we've lost $70 million of taxpayer money. So, you know, for someone who is a conservative Republican concerned about those issues or anyone who just wants to be fiscally responsible, that's egregious.

We spent $70 million of the county since 2008 because of the actions of my predecessor and his failed leadership. The small percentage of the community who embrace or support what had gone on is by far the minority because this community wants to have a law enforcement agency that they can feel proud of. And they want to be able to travel around the country and not have to defend that Arizona is not a biased or racist state.

MARTIN: You penned a recent Op-Ed where you try to talk about the direction that you're trying to take the sheriff's department. And one of the themes was that the circus has left town. And you said that, for example, that the costly and disgraceful practice of using our badges to harass and intimidate people of color has ended. Do you think that you have succeeded? And do you think that you have succeeded in kind of changing perceptions of that department to this point?

PENZONE: I would not tell you that we have finished our work, you know, or we aren't in the right direction. I think the first success came in November when the community spoke and said that they were no longer willing to allow or tolerate the practices of the previous sheriff, and they wanted to change. So this work will never come to an end. We're (unintelligible) also more successful. It has to be, you know, an ongoing process.

Here's what bothers me most if I want to speak very honestly and directly about what just did occur regarding the pardon. Every day, we speak as parents to our children about right and wrong and about consequences to behaviors and about why, you know, it is important to be fair and treat each other with respect because that's what we want in return. And as a law enforcement professional and as a parent, I need to make sure that even circumstances such as these where - you know, no one is above the law. But in many ways, this action gives the impression that some will be pardoned when they have not yet been held accountable completely.

And that's a challenge that, not only as a parent, not always as a law enforcement professional, but as a leader in any community, we should be concerned about. If we're going to restore ourselves to a place of pride as a nation, we have to put partisan elements aside. And the law enforcement has to be that stable force every day that you have trust and confidence in that they are going to protect you and that they're going to be fair.

And regardless of the color of your skin or where you come from or your ethnicity or religion or those factors, we will all be treated equally and we'll be judged on our actions if they are criminal and not on the color of our skin or other factors.

MARTIN: That's Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone. We're talking about the decision by President Trump to pardon his predecessor Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt for his treatment of, particularly, Latino motorists and others. Mr. Penzone, thanks so much for speaking with us.

PENZONE: Oh, it's been my honor. Thank you for the time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.