A discussion with former Phoenix Police Sgt. Penzone, the Democratic candidate for Maricopa County Sheriff.
Jose Cardenas: He is the national icon for illegal immigration enforcement in the United States. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is seeking a sixth term in office. He faces a challenge from Democrat Paul Penzone and independent Mike Stauffer. We invited both Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Mike Stauffer to appear on the show but did not hear back from their campaigns. Joining me tonight to talk about what he would do if elected Maricopa County sheriff is Democrat retired Phoenix Police Sergeant Paul Penzone. Paul Penzone, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte." Let's start with your background in law enforcement. Give us a quick summary.
Paul Penzone: Absolutely. I was very fortunate in my career that I had great opportunity. If I wanted to write a script for what I could have accomplished in law enforcement that was really how it went. I worked in gang enforcement for a short period of time and I also was a field training officer overseeing the development of young officers. I went on to work in narcotics for six years under cover and not just at the street level where you assess crime from the inside out but assigned three years on a Federal task force with the drug enforcement administration. So there I had the opportunity to learn and become versed in high-profile investigations, which include wire taps, the cartels, bigger organizations. Working with not only Federal agents but state agents across the nation. And the U.S. Attorney's office. I spent some time in administration overseeing budgets and capital improvements and finished my career running the silent witness program where not only did I represent high-profile cases and wanted fugitives that were unsolved for the Phoenix police department but throughout Maricopa County and even city council or mayors on occasion in order to ensure we were developing programs for safety.
Jose Cardenas: How many years are we talking about?
Paul Penzone: 21 years.
Jose Cardenas: All of that with the Phoenix police department?
Paul Penzone: Yes, sir. I retired about three years ago and I went on to become the vice president of a national nonprofit called Child Help.
Jose Cardenas: What were you doing there?
Jose Cardenas: I was in charge of all the prevention programs across the nation and many of us don't understand that crimes against children is a growing problem. It's always a problem at any level but the capacity is just overwhelming right now. I was responsible for prevention programs. Governmental affairs, I handled some of the public speaking but then in addition to that if we had a facility that was not functioning properly, my job was to go there on behalf of the CEO, assess it, put some programs in place to correct it, and then make sure it was being handled properly.
Jose Cardenas: Sounds like a pretty good job for somebody dedicated to public service. What would make you decide then to leave that and run against what many consider to be the most unbeatable politician in the state, and if not the country?
Paul Penzone: Because of the word you used right there, politician. My opinion, public safety should never cross over to politics. I understand this is an elected position. But for me, and I have known the sheriff a long time and I speak of this often, I wish him no ill will. I would never speak poorly of him as a person. But I'm greatly disappointed that not only has he misrepresented what law enforcement stands for but he's actually damaged, tainted the reputation of our state. We cannot focus on issues that have a greater political benefit than a public safety benefit. We cannot allow our children to be victims of crimes and for us to neglect those issues because we are overstaffing in areas such as immigration which does pose challenges, but we have to be fundamentally sound.
Jose Cardenas: So in what ways has he misrepresented what law enforcement stands for?
Paul Penzone: Well I think first and foremost, when you are a leader in an organization, your number one responsibility is to ensure you are giving not only the training but the accountability to those that work on behalf of the organization and how they serve the community. He has treated it as though gimmicks, his public image, and things that are more sensational in nature as opposed to fundamentally sound are his number one priority. We look at the birther investigation. There is no business getting engaged to that. It wasn't something that should have fallen within his jurisdiction, yet he wasted a lot of taxpayer money in addition to resources that should have gone to investigating other crimes. We look at his lack of respect and his lack of willingness to take responsibility for the failures that related to crimes against children. It should never go on that long. It should never happen once.
Jose Cardenas: Talking about the issues in Surprise?
Paul Penzone: Yeah. El Mirage and for the sheriff to treat that with such callous and disregard, misrepresents the sacrifice many good men and women make every day to keep the community safe.
Jose Cardenas: So you claim that he has tainted the state of Arizona and there are many people who agree with you but he has a lot of fans across the country. Presumably that's one of the reasons he's been able to raise, what, $ 8 million for his reelection. So does that all balance out? In terms of the public image of the state? He's attracted a lot of positive attention from one segment of the population.
Paul Penzone: I would have to respectfully disagree with you. The two issues he has touted in order to raise money for his campaign, outside the state, which over 80% of his dollars come from, first and foremost was the birther issue. He had people who were more concerned about the race for president that were contributing to his campaign as opposed to public safety in our own County. And the other issue was immigration. He's portrayed this as a public safety issue as opposed to a challenge because it comes in many forms. So he raised money off of people who are emotionally attached to that issue believing that because the immigration challenge that we face that our lives have suffered because of it, that our economy has suffered because of it. But in reality there are other factors. He hasn't raised the money saying I am keeping the Maricopa County safe, he's raised the money saying I am going after the president and I am going after immigrants.
Jose Cardenas: And also by saying he's the toughest sheriff in the country.
Paul Penzone: Absolutely. And I don't think a moniker should define a person of leadership because there are a lot of tough people in law enforcement. But let's just talk about one particular issue I brought up earlier. For the better part of seven years, women and children were being victimized, sex offences in a mall community. As a leader of that organization, you may not know what everything is going on, but you should have people around you who bring it to your attention immediately when there are failures. Seven years it went on. And his response to it - that he was unaware. If you don't run an organization in a fashion that people who you empower are paying attention to the details bring to it your attention then you are no longer running the ship. We have lost millions of dollars in lawsuits. We have had children who are victims; they are the most precious assets. You don't get a do-over when that happens. It's time to recognize you are no longer serving the needs of the County and you need someone who is serious about law enforcement.
Jose Cardenas: How would a Penzone term as sheriff differ from Arpaio? Let's begin with the area of immigration. The recent testimony in the lawsuit involving the sheriff was to the effect the sheriff may say all kinds of things on TV and on the radio and that's for public consumption, but we, the line people, we do the job the way we understand we have to do it, the way that the lawyers tell us what the restrictions are and we do it professionally and without bias. So as a practical matter, what would the public see different in regards to immigration from a Paul Penzone, a Sheriff Penzone than they see from a Sheriff Arpaio?
Paul Penzone: I think we saw from the testimony was a sheriff who is completely disconnected from his own organization. So all of the talk about tough or how he runs his office really was nothing more than a figurehead of his own staff who has a lack of respect for the statements he makes. Either one of two things. Either he doesn't know which is a failure or he does know and he denies it because he won't take responsibility. For me law enforcement is meant to be fundamentally sound. There are a lot of issues you must address across the board. The sheriff's office is responsible for the unincorporated areas, those under contract and the detention centers, the number one priorities. If you have misallocated all your resources into the area of immigration and overlooked like fugitive who is run free in our community or cases not investigated properly, then you are not serving the needs. For me I will take it back to a court element knowing you have law enforcement that's professional and ethical, but you have a sheriff who pays attention to details and holds his people accountable and I will have a unit within my organization that does audits to ensure that fiscally as well as operationally I am aware of any challenge that we face or any failures that may, we may have to address. But immediately. Not years after the fact.
Jose Cardenas: So we wouldn't see any more business raids to root out what the sheriff thinks is a problem with undocumented workers?
Paul Penzone: Absolutely not. His raids are excessive and his raids are unproductive. I actually met with business owners earlier this week. Their business was raided because they were I believe less than eight employees out of 150 employees of a company who were committing a crime which was identity theft. They were undocumented workers. Is that a crime? Absolutely. But the level of force that he sent, I believe it was upwards of 40 or 60 deputies to that facility for a nonthreatening crime and bringing the media and trying to overexpose it is unproductive. I would use more resources to address drug houses with guns, money, drug addicts and weapons to safely execute on those operations. We cannot be sensational for the sake of media. We must be effective for the sake of the needs of our community and we must be efficient.
Jose Cardenas: Speaking of resources, the sheriff claims he saves a lot of county money by running tent city. What would you do in that regard?
Paul Penzone: We are stuck with tent city. We are stuck with tent city because we know there were somewhere between 90 and $100 million misappropriated; taxpayer dollars that were specifically to enhance the jail operations. The sheriff spent those in other places. So we have the tent. And the sheriff has tried to misrepresent what I stated so let me be very clear about this. I am not getting rid of the tent because we cannot get rid of the tent. We have a population of inmates that must be housed somewhere. I will not allow inmates to run free because we have shut down a portion of our facility. There's nowhere to keep them incarcerated but it will be cleaned up. It will be run safely and efficiently and humanely, not so that conditions inside are more accommodating than outside. But so that we are not mistreating people, and so that we are reducing liability as opposed to paying out lawsuits like we have seen over and over again from the sheriff in excess. A high liability job but the excesses we have seen where it's nearly $60 million in lawsuits is not consistent with other agencies across the nation.
Jose Cardenas: What would do you? Speaking of what I think you are referring to the deaths that is occurred not necessarily in tent city but within the jail proper? How would you prevent that?
Paul Penzone: We must recognize that it is a privilege to be in law enforcement as much as a sacrifice. But for those who wear the uniform, whether deputies or detention officers, they should meet and be held to the highest standards. They should know that their behavior does not reflect the person you are interacting with because you may be interacting with someone pending a trial or convicted of a crime. How you treat them is not reflection of what they are and what they have done but who we are and what we stand for. I will set standards and hold my employees to those standards because law enforcement represents the greater side of a society. We have an expectation of professionalism. You cannot be disconnected. You cannot say which the sheriff says I didn't know, I wasn't aware of that. You must have audits in place and people who are acting on your behalf to ensure when these failures occur, you address them immediately and other employees in the organization recognize you are serious about your standards.
Jose Cardenas: What about relationships with the County board of supervisors?
Paul Penzone: Well, the relationship that is we must be professional and act on behalf of those that we serve which is the community. So I look at it and I understand that in the past there have been challenges but for me, I have a great history of working in collaboration with many different people from law enforcement through private business and otherwise. I look at Board of Supervisors and they have a responsibility to hold me accountable to the budget to ensure I am spending taxpayer dollars efficiently. In turn, they have a responsibility to the sheriff's office to ensure we are getting enough funding to properly run our operations. The key is transparency. If the community is more aware of expenditures, justifiable or not so they can be heard on those issues, then then they are going to hold us accountable. It's when we do things in secret or the dark that we are doing it for the wrong reasons and that's not acceptable.
Jose Cardenas: The sheriff has asserted at times and tried to justify his conduct by saying he's an elected official and he has the need to protect the integrity of the sheriff's office, the independence of the sheriff's office. Do you think the sheriff's office position should be a hired position as opposed to an elected one?
Paul Penzone: I could formulate an argument for either side. In this case I'm pursuing it because it's an elected position, but if it were an appointed position it would not be something I would argue against. But here are the both sides. When you have positions that are higher such as police chiefs, the benefits that you have is that you have a board of supervisors that hold that individual accountable to their failures to ensure they are doing the job properly. But the down side is, in that position and in law enforcement you are less free to speak publicly on issues because the maybe the political influence of those who have hired you. For the sheriff. Because you have those freedoms you should be an aggressive advocate on behalf of your colleagues in law enforcement to speak out on issues that serve the public safety, the needs of the public. But the downside is, only every four years can you be held accountable and if you have done like the sheriff has which has promoted his public image over public safety he's become a popular sheriff, not an effective sheriff, but because of the manner that he manages his brand, we can say, people are less apt to vote him out of office. It's a shame because if you look at the track record, the lawsuits, crimes against children, the fugitives, the allegations justifiable or not of racial profiling that he refuses to look into himself or acknowledge, he denies them more than he addresses them -- and his unwillingness to take responsibility for any failures, those are the motivations why I'm running.
Jose Cardenas: Let's talk quickly about the campaign itself. How's it going?
Paul Penzone: Exceptionally. We are closer in the polling than any candidate has ever been and I believe that the polls is probably slightly skewed because it's going to come down to the vote number. How many people who show up to vote will dictate the outcome and I really feel confident that come November 6 we will be successful.
Jose Cardenas: Why do you think you will be able to turn out the vote? In numbers that would be sufficient to take you to victory?
Paul Penzone: Two factors. First factor is the sheriff. He has polarized our community and inspired people to come out in opposition of him. Some people sometimes say you could be big bird -- that's not a good one. You could be Kermit the frog and I would vote for you. That's not OK. It has to be the right person. Fortunately, what's happened from my position is people are inspired by my history in law enforcement. Therefore, they are more inclined to support my effort. This is not just a statement against the sheriff. This is a statement about who do you want in law enforcement as your leader? And I have the confidence that I have shown through my career that I am best suited to take the office.
Jose Cardenas: Speaking of confidence, the sheriff seems to be have the confidence level such that he doesn't think he needs to debate you in public. What do you say about that?
Paul Penzone: I say he's fearful because he understands if he stands next to me and answer to things he's not going to have success. He's talked about how tough he is yet he is fearful to make the same allegations he has made in commercials which are untruthful and to speak to me and allow me to answer them. He challenges George Lopez. You want to make allegations? I will stand next to you and I will state the same things I have stated already about the issues and the failures in the organization. Give you the chance to not only answer to them but then talk about where you are going forward for the best interests of this community. But you know what? The voting population, our community, has the right to hear from the candidates so they can choose who is best suited and it's shown through contrast. He's fearful to stand next to me because the contrast will not work in his favor. I am very serious about law enforcement.
Jose Cardenas: As noted in the beginning of our interview we did invite the sheriff and Mr. Stauffer apparently declined. Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizonte."
Paul Penzone: Thank you. It's been an honor.
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