Immigration & Justice LAPD Law Enforcement

Joltin’ Arizona Joe and LA’s Gascon: Good Cop versus Bad Cop


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.


  • “police worry that the demonstrations could easy turn violent.”
    That’s no reason to not enforce the law.

    Why put them on chain gangs? In the old days, state prisoners were leased to private companies to fill labor needs. That’s one way the Mexicans could work here legally if they won’t follow the rules.

    You make me think of another issue. Why do people in L.A. (and New York and Massachusetts) think that they should tell people in other states how to handle their matters? Believe me, the needs and problems of Georgia are different from those of L.A., and we know how to solve them better than people who have no idea what is going on here. At least marrying dogs and humans aren’t next on our list of marriage options. Maybe Arizona is doing what is best for its situation. Now, get that dog off of your leg.

  • I’m not sure hypocracy is a strong enough word to capture the lack of self-knowledge in that last comment.

  • I wonder if Celeste wants any immigration laws enforced. Here in Los Angeles the local politicos are against any and all enforcement of immigration laws. Should we just allow anybody and everybody into the country, because that is what you want? Of course Celeste and our Mexican/Mechista politicians thinks any enforcement of immigration laws is and ill conceived idea.

    I say let’s look at the effect/result of enforcing immigration laws has on AMERICAN citizens in Arizona, not the opinion of the mayor of Guadalupe and the “traumatized community” of illegal aliens living there. I pretty sure the Yaqui Indians living in Guadalupe will not be deported.

    I also wonder what would happen in the county jails if Sheriff Baca did not seperate the gang gang members by race, because according to Cleste all the gangs of different races get along so well.

  • “….because according to Cleste [sic] all the gangs of different races get along so well.”

    So I say that I agree with Charlie Beck that most gang crime isn’t race based, but is gang based and that’s how you translate the thought? Hmmmmm. I’ll work harder on my communication skills from now on.

    By the way, the above is particularly ironic since just this morning I was working on a chapter of my new book (nonfiction about gangs, prison, prisoner reentry yadda, yadda, yadda), and the specific section I was laboring over mightily had to do with a scene that depicts the strict balkanization along racial lines that takes place in California prisons, and the violence that takes place when anybody screws up.

  • Arpaio also fought restrictions on handguns within 200 yards of schools so he is consistent. But he’s helping Obama by reminding everyone with an Hispanic name that the GOP base hates them. Maybe that is why McCain is showinf weakness in his home state.

    BTW has anyone seriously challenged this clown? I mean with real resources and a record. How about Chief Gascon? Think Big Bad Joe would like to go up against the LAPD?

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