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Four months into office, Paul Penzone works to shake predecessor’s legacy

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
LISTEN: Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone

PHOENIX — As Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone settles into his new position, the legacy left behind by his predecessor will not define his time in office, he said on Tuesday.

In an interview with KTAR’s Mac and Gaydos, Penzone said he is working to establish a “different culture” in his administration.

Instead of focusing on the controversies of who is leading the department, Penzone said, he wants to shine a spotlight on the work his employees are doing for the community.

“We’ve established a different culture and improved morale dramatically,” Penzone said,” adding that he and his employees feel like they have “ownership” over their post.

“Historically, the narrative was too much about who was the head of the organization, not about the men and women in the organization doing their day in, day out jobs,” Penzone said.

Even after announcing he will shut down his predecessor’s biggest legacy, Tent City, there is still one thing Penzone cannot shake from the previous administration: Civil cases regarding the department’s racial-profiling practices.

Three years ago, U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow imposed reforms over the department after uncovering sweeping practices that involved targeting Latinos during patrols. While the county has spent millions to comply with the judge’s orders, the office was slow to adapt completely.

Penzone said he meets in front of Snow each quarter to “make sure this does not happen again.”

“Our relationship has improved dramatically,” Penzone said.

There are several practices in place to make sure the department stays in compliance for three consecutive years, per Snow’s orders, including receiving a “report card” to address the issues going forward and a developing database to track any possible increase in racially-profiled stops.

“We’ve had great work done but it was overshadowed by the negatives,” Penzone said. “We need to get rid of those negatives to show what great things the men and women across the organization have been doing.”

However, there is one department established by his predecessor that Penzone said he will keep: The MASH Unit, which provides care and support to animals recovered from abuse cases.

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