U.S. House 287(g) Hearings: A Quick Q & A with Mesa Police Chief George Gascon
|Gascon outside the House Judiciary Committee Thursday afternoon.|
The difference between Mesa Police Chief George Gascon and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is like the difference between Barack Obama and Geoge Bush. Brains versus bluster.
The former LAPD assistant chief is a policy wonk with a cop's toughness. He out-classes Arpaio. Too bad Gascon isn't our sheriff instead of what we're stuck with for four more years. That is, unless the Justice Department gets on the ball and really probes the nest of scorpions known as the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office
Check out this mini-interview I did with Gascon today at the hearings:.
In the past, you've said that Arpaio doesn't run a professional law enforcement agency, do you still believe that?
Gascon: I disagree with the way he does his work...I don't want to speak for the agency. I don't think he runs the agency professionally. There's a distinction. I think there are a lot of men and women who work for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office who are very professional, dedicated police officers.
Do you think that, based on the history of how Arpaio's used 287(g), the program should be stripped from him?
Gascon: Well, I think if the federal government conducts a serious investigation, and if they in fact determine that many of the allegations that have been levied against the sheriff's department are true, I think the federal government has a legal and moral obligation to ensure that behavior does not continue.
Did the incidents you discussed in the hearing -- the MCSO sweep in Mesa last year, and the raid on City Hall and the library -- endanger the community?
Gascon: There's no question...Certainly in the first incident [the seeep], the officers have to work crowd control [beacause of the protesters, pro and con], and if a crowd gets out of hand and an officer gets injured, that places the officer in jeopardy. I think the second incident, the one at the library, we have officers who are working under a great deal of tension because they had heard about an incident earlier in Phoenix where you had people dressed as police officers actually engaging the Phoenix Police Department in shooting. So you have all these officers that [have] all this information in their minds, and all of sudden at 1:30 in the morning, they're confronted with this large group of men who are not readily identifiable as the "real police," if you will. I think it creates problems for all of us.
Why are relations so strained between the MCSO and the Mesa PD that Arpaio's office cannot even communicate with you?
Gascon: That I don't know, because we have requested that any time they are going to come [into Mesa], we're made aware of it, so we can ensure that they [and our own people] are operating safely.
One of Arpaio's rationalizations for the sweeps is that they sometimes get bad guys by pulling people over for traffic violations. What do you say to that?
Gascon: If you arrest enough people, you're going to find some violent criminals. If you go around and sweep 100 people off the streets, you're likely to pick up at least 2 or 3 percent who are going to be violent criminals...The question becomes, at what expense? What are we sacrificing constitutionally? And what else are we not doing if we're doing this instead? Because you do have finite resources.
The success that Mesa has experienced -- and by the way, we have reduced crime 21 percent in the first two years that I've been there, homicides by 29 percent last year -- has been because we have very strategically focused our limited resources on the people who are committing most of the crimes.
(Phoenix New Times' special reports section on Joe Arpaio has all the background on Maricopa County's sheriff.)