On Monday, the AZ Senate's Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the service of felony warrants. The hearing was called in response to a Goldwater Institute report that criticized Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office for its failure to address the growing number of unserved felony warrants in Maricopa County. (40K and counting)
Note: my comments, snark and all, will be in italics.
The first presenter was Paul Chagolla, former spokesman and current deputy chief of MCSO. While he is no longer the official PR guy for Arpaio, it was obvious from the start that he still retains his skills at spinning and twisting facts.
Chagolla started right off by declaring that "there is not a warrant crisis" in Maricopa County. He repeatedly stressed the idea that it isn't his agency's responsibility to serve other agencies' warrants.
Is Chagolla deputy chief of the "It's not our fault" division of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office?
He cited some statistics that seemed to show that while the County's population has been growing, the number of unserved warrants has stayed basically the same, concluding that "if it's a crisis, then it's a 10-year crisis."
Conveniently breezing right past the fact that Arpaio has been in office since 1993, which is...let me do the math here...16 years. I know Arizonans pride themselves on being independent and all, but 16 is greater than 10, even here. In other words, Chagolla tried to evade responsibility for the warrant backlog by saying that Arpaio and MCSO have been letting the problem fester for at least a decade.
Another point that Chagolla emphasized was that of the outstanding warrants, nearly 50% are for "failure to appear" or "contempt of court" (aka - other words that frequently mean 'failure to appear).
Ignoring the underlying crimes that the fugitives "failed to appear" in court over.
Chagolla acknowledged that MCSO doesn't have *anyone* specifically assigned to serve felony warrants.
Apparently, it's the policy of MCSO to leave fugitives alone except in situations where they come to the attention of law enforcement for things like, you know, committing other crimes. Which they wouldn't have the opportunity to commit if....well, you know the rest.
Chagolla did suggest one way to address the glut of warrants - judges should simply remand more people who have been accused of crimes.
Yup, MCSO does so well in handling the prisoners that it now oversees that it can handle more.
Anyway, despite the unintentionally humorous nature of Chagolla's testimony, the highlight of the hearing on Monday was when State Sen. Russell Pearce (R-National Alliance) took over.
Like Chagolla, he began his remarks by saying that the warrant backlog isn't the fault of the sheriff. Unlike Chagolla however, he didn't immediately attempt to slough off responsibility on to "all law enforcement officers".
Nope, all the hubbub over MCSO leaving rapists and murderers to roam free while devoting scarce resources to hunting down undocumented immigrants is because the media "has an agenda" and is conducting a "witch hunt."
He went on to blame immigrants for a whole host of Arizona's ailments -
Low wages, underfunded and overcrowded schools, sex crimes are all the fault of undocumented immigrants.
Obviously, right-to- (not) work laws, neanderthal legislators, and perverts have nothing to do with any of that.
He spent a lot of time discussing violent crimes by immigrants, while ignoring the same crimes if they were committed by those who are legally here in the country.
You know, the ones who have warrants out for them.
However, egalitarian that he is, Pearce reserved some of his contempt for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
At one point, someone suggested that the lege find funds to help out with warrant service. Pearce pronounced that the BOS could be "redirected" by the supes.
At another point, when Democratic Sen. Ken Cheuvront pointed out that the supes control their county's money, Pearce announced that the lege was in charge of, well, *everything.*
Which may explain the mess that the state is in.
Pearce spouted many statistics of questionable provenance and accuracy, but my favorite his assertion that one-third of the inmates in the federal prison system are illegal immigrants.
A quick check of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) website gave lie to that particular dubious assertion.
According the BOP, 73.4% of all inmates are of U.S. citizenship, which means that 26.6% have a citizenship that is other than U.S.
Basic math - 26.6% is lower than 33.333% (which is 1/3 in decimal form).
Also, the same page shows that less than 11% of inmates in the federal system are there for immigration-related offenses.
On the other hand, he may have confused his basic bigotry against brown-skinned people with statistical fact - the BOP website does show that inmates with Hispanic ancestry make up 32% of the inmate population.
Maybe he believes that all Hispanic people are illegal immigrants - that 32% is close enough to the "1/3" that he cited to be confusing to a unthinking nativist like Pearce.
Note: I contacted the BOP's media relations office to seek clarification on the stats - as in "how many undocumented immigrants are in the system?" Not everyone who is in the country and is a non-U.S. citizen is undocumented. In addition, those inmates who are undocumented immigrants could be incarcerated for non-immigration related crimes.
The woman who answered the phone for the BOP didn't have anything to offer other than what is on the website.
Anyway, the stats that are available definitively refute Pearce's "33%."
I finally packed it in when the chair of the committee, Jonathan Paton, announced that the committee would adjourn at 5:00 p.m., and that the representatives of the other police agencies present would be invited back at a later date. He then allowed the rep from the Goldwater Institute, Clint Bolick, to give his testimony. (AZ Rep coverage here)
Bolick basically directly refuted Chagolla's early testimony that there was no warrant "crisis" in Maricopa County.
Paton promised to schedule the next hearing within a few weeks.
Why not sooner? It's not like the Senate is doing anything else anyway.
The video of the meeting should be posted here within a few days.
Other coverage of the meeting - An immigration blogger, Chapparal, watched the hearing via streaming video, and offers his/her take on the proceedings here. He offers a similar opinion of Pearce's activities.
Similar, but far more succinct. :)