Community members and government representatives, including Sheriff Joe Arpaio (right), gathered in Anthem on Jan. 14 to confer on MCSO policies.

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MCSO practices discussed at Anthem meeting

Elizabeth Medora ~ 1/25/2015

ANTHEM – Since October 2013, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has been under court monitoring over profiling and detention practices. A community meeting was held in Anthem on Jan. 14 to discuss how local residents feel about MCSO practices.

Since that Jan. 14 meeting, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow has announced that he will be overseeing civil contempt of court proceedings against Arpaio due to lack of compliance with the judge’s orders. A mini-trial is planned for April.

Court monitoring of MCSO stems from a ruling made by Judge Snow, who heard the case Ortega Melendres, et al. v. Arpaio, et al. Snow determined that MCSO had engaged in racial profiling and that new practices and policies needed to be implemented. He chose former New York police chief Robert Warshaw to oversee MCSO compliance monitoring.

 “How do you feel about police service?” Raul Martinez, who is part of the court-ordered monitoring team, asked of the Anthem meeting attendees. He described the purpose of the meeting as “to hear from you.”

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio attended the Anthem meeting. He briefly addressed the audience, thanking everyone for attending. He referred to the meeting as a form of “outreach program” and noted that he likes attending these kinds of community forums, as he “likes getting to the people.”

MCSO Deputy Chief Dave Trombi also spoke at the meeting, emphasizing, “We need you” and asking for community input. He referenced a billboard he’d seen driving in Phoenix that says, “‘Coins are made of metal because change is hard.’ It didn’t say change is impossible,” Trombi said. He recounted a personal story about police behavior he had encountered while in another state, saying that there should not be an “us vs. them mentality” and that mindset needs to change. He asked for the community to share their feelings on “what’s being done right and what’s being done wrong.”

As part of the court order, court monitor officials are holding community meetings throughout Maricopa County to ask residents how they feel about MCSO and to keep residents informed on ongoing changes and updates. Each of the MCSO’s seven districts will have one meeting per year, as per the court order. The American Civil Liberties Union has been closely involved with the case, and representatives publicized and attended the Anthem meeting.

Martinez referred to the court order, noting that there were 59 pages of requirements in it for MCSO, and that the purpose was to “implement best practices.” Court officials are required to monitor MCSO’s compliance with the order and to ensure that the order is complied with, in that it “prohibits discriminatory and racial profiling” and “prohibits law enforcement acting on race or ethnicity.”

“No police action should be based on how you look – it should be based on what you do,” Martinez emphasized. He added that the system tracks behaviors of police officers and works as a tool to get officers help if needed and is not a punitive measure.

Martinez described the officers of court as “umpires” who work on audits, reports, and assessments. Through their observations, the monitors can keep the public informed and let the sheriff and the commanders of units know if some practices need to be examined, even if the order does not specifically deal with those issues.

Martinez gave a brief summary of the court monitors’ first report on MCSO. MCSO was in full compliance with 13 percent of the court order. Martinez called the low compliance rate “not abnormal for a police department when they’re first going through this process.” He noted that the department has to “create processes, create training, and then implement the training.”

The second and most recent compliance report details that MCSO was in full compliance with 16 percent of the court order requirements. Martinez again noted that this low number was not abnormal and that departments “have to create policies before training.”

After summarizing the reports, Martinez noted that ultimately the community is the judge of how changes are progressing.

“You’re our bosses – you’re the ones who tell us if you’re happy or unhappy,” Martinez said.

Audience members were invited to give comments in the meeting. Several members said they felt racial profiling was still going on. Martinez noted that the judge involved in the case is “very involved” and will be watching the progression of MCSO’s compliance rate. Current judicial proceedings for civil contempt illustrate the judge’s continued involvement; updates on that case will be provided as they become available.

Martinez noted how many good police officers the court monitor team has encountered, describing many of them as “looking forward to better policies and better equipment.” One of the changes that will be implemented is that every MCSO officer will be wearing a recording device.

The court monitors “try to be as fair and impartial as we can be,” Martinez said. He called “public trust” the “key thing” and referenced the Constitution, noting that it applies to everyone.

“It doesn't matter what you look like, what music you play, how long your hair is, or the color of your skin,” he emphasized.