Two years ago, former Assistant Chief George Gascon left the LAPD to become the chief of police in Mesa, Arizona. It’s not that Gascon was drawn irresistibly to move to another sun belt state. The job change had more to do with the fact that, if and when Bill Bratton leaves the LAPD to, say, become the Homeland Security czar under Barack Obama, Gascon will be one of those shortlisted to replace him. So George took the Arizona gig, he told me at the time, because he reasoned that having helmed the department in a complex, medium-sized city like Mesa (roughly the size of Long Beach) would likely one day help his chances in the big league chief race back in Los Angeles.
Gascon also said he liked the challenge. He came to Mesa in the wake of a police scandal that had resulted in a spike in the crime rate and a dive in department morale. Two years later, he is a popular chief who has done much to reverse those problems.
But in the past six months, Gascon has run into a far more solution-resistant problem in the person of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Arpaio, for those of you who have somehow forgotten (or never knew to begin with), is a publicity-addicted self-caricaturing kind of a guy who, as the head of the nation’s third largest sheriff’s department, appears to believe erroneously that shame is the route to public safety. He has gleefully reinstituted the chain gang for jail inmates—including a women’s chain gang—brags about feeding his prisoners a steady diet of bologna sandwiches, brags louder about forcing inmates to wear pink underwear and/or t-shirts that say “I was a drug addict”—-and who is repeatedly reelected to the position of Maricopa sheriff by large margins.
Last spring Joe decided that he didn’t like the way that George Gascon and some of the state’s other officials were enforcing immigration laws. (Gascon’s system is similar to that of the LAPD under Special Order 40) So he decided he would just have to do the enforcing himself—his way, which included checking the immigration status of everyone who was stopped for the most minor traffic infraction, reportedly arresting anybody who could not prove citizenship on the spot, or who was solely Spanish speaking.
The Mayor of Phoenix was furious at Arpaio’s high-handedness saying that Joltin’ Joe’s antics were interfering disastrously with undercover city police officers and federal agents. The mayor of Guadalupe pleaded with him to leave her traumatized community alone. Arpaio gave them both the figurative finger and went ahead with his clumsy raids anyway, always making sure that TV crews and gun-toting Minute Men were on hand to maximize the photo ops.
Now Arpaio intends to up the ante with huge new immigration sweeps in Mesa where he clearly relishes going head to head with high profile LA migrant, George Gascon—who, legally, can do nothing to stop Arpaio due to a federal statute called 287(g) passed in 1996 as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (an ill-conceived Republican-bulldozed package that has since wreaked all kinds of mischief).
Arpaio’s only concession, made after numerous requests by Gascon and one of Mesa’s police unions, was to send Gascon a letter on Tuesday informing him that the raids were about to commence 48-hours later—namely Thursday—but he refused to say where or what time.
To put this in perspective, imagine LA County Sheriff Lee Baca unilaterally deciding to do gargantuan raids at multiple unannounced points within the LA city limits, damn the objections and the consequences, and if Bratton and company didn’t like it because it interfered with more serious crime enforcement? Tough. Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff says it’s okay. So deal with it.
“By the way,” Arpaio told the press in April, “we do have a 3,000-person posse — and about 500 have guns. They have their own airplanes, jeeps, motorcycles, everything. They can only operate under the sheriff. I swear ’em in. I can put up 30 airplanes tomorrow if I wanted.”
Great. The mature mind at work—and heavily armed.
On Thursday, large groups of Mesa residents are expected to demonstrate for and against Arpaio’s Wild West grandstanding, and police worry that the demonstrations could easy turn violent.
But Joltin’ Joe is unfazed. “If you get caught by immigration, you get a free ride back to Mexico in an air-conditioned bus,” Arpaio told the Washington Post . “A free ride? Not in my county. I’m going to put them on chain gangs, in tents and feed them bologna sandwiches.”
A few month’s back, I heard from Gascon on the issue and he was understandably upset then. But now things are clearly coming to a head—and not in a good way. So stay tuned.
Meanwhile, on the local front, this morning at 11 AM, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu is expected to rule on a court challenge to LA’s own Special Order 40.