PHOENIX — Arizona’s state budget would strip Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone of $1.6 million for a task force that deters criminal gang activity, but would still appropriate money for the same task forces in Pinal and Pima counties.
The provision is included in the criminal justice section of the budget approved by the House’s Appropriations Committee Wednesday on an 8-5 vote. Eight Republicans on the panel voted for the measure and all five Democrats voted against it. The proposal now advances to the full House for consideration.
Several Democrats questioned whether cutting the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission funding from the state’s most populous county was politically motivated after the Democratic sheriff defeated longtime Republican sheriff Joe Arpaio in November.
“We have a new Democratic sheriff in Maricopa County and then we have a new Republican sheriff in Pima County and so they’ve kept their funds but you’ve stripped all …gang enforcement funds from the sheriff of Maricopa County,” Democratic Rep. Mark Cardenas said during the committee hearing. “I’m wondering if anyone can answer why.”
Daniel Scarpinato, Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman, said the swept funds will be still be appropriated toward public safety, and noted they will be used to take action on Arizona’s untested sexual assault kits.
“The governor believes that this issue of the rape kit backlog is one that is very critical to public safety,” Scarpinato said. “So this from our standpoint is a very relevant use of these dollars for public safety.”
Scarpinato said resources like partnerships between Maricopa County and the Arizona Department of Public Safety dealing with drug crimes and trafficking make it possible to continue to make gang enforcement a priority while also dealing with the untested kits.
Cardenas said the task force funding is used in Maricopa County to enforce immigration laws on gang members who are felons operating within his district.
“I think people who are running the drugs, people who are stuffing people in a hotel room — 30 to 40 people at a time — I think it’s universal that these people need to be found…they are committing violent crimes in my neighborhood.”
Under the proposal Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb would receive $500,000 in funding while Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier would get $400,000.
Mark Casey, a spokesman for Penzone, said the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is in the process of analyzing the impact the provision would have.
Democratic Rep. Ken Clark said it was reprehensible the committee would allow the proposal to pass when members could not explain the reasoning behind the stripped funding.
“We’re going to lower public safety for people evidently just in Maricopa County, and that’s not doing our job,” Clark said when he voted against the proposal.