PHOENIX — Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone was looking at a $1.6 million hole in gang task force funding Friday, one that a state legislator said was likely the result of immigration enforcement issues with the office.
“Part of the (Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission) process involves immigration enforcement. The sheriff made it widely known that he didn’t plan on enforcing many of the immigration laws,” Rep. T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge) said.
“I believe that’s where this agreement came from,” he said, adding the outcome of the approved state budget wasn’t politically motivated.
Penzone is a Democrat, who unseated longtime Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Republican, in the 2016 general election.
“The issue is this: My predecessor is responsible for the fact that my office is prohibited … from being involved in any immigration enforcement by two federal court orders,” Penzone said on KTAR News 92.3 FM Arizona’s Morning News.
“That’s what cost this county $60 million (in a racial profiling case against Arpaio). So to say I’ve chosen not to (not enforce immigration) is misleading and dishonest.”
Hours before, the Arizona Senate approved a nearly $10 billion budget that included $900,000 for two other counties to spend on gang task forces and a state agency to clear the backlog of rape kits.
“To be fair this is not just a Republican or Democrat issue,” Shope said.
“The sheriffs of Cochise and Yuma counties are Republicans and didn’t receive funding. The sheriff in Santa Cruz County is a Democrat and didn’t receive funding.
“I bristle at the notion that this is a partisan issue. The priority of the program is immigration and gang enforcement.”
In February, Penzone had said his office would no longer hold inmates past their release dates for Immigration and Customs Enforcement pickups. Previously, doing so gave federal authorities more time to begin deportation proceedings.
Within a week, he said the two sides had reached an agreement on detainee transfers.
“GITEM money is more about gang enforcement and drug enforcement,” Penzone said.
“The immigration issue is a much bigger picture. That is an easy response to try to polarize my concerns over losing this funding.”
He said his office would have to make up the money for 12 detectives on the task force.
Pinal and Pima counties will be dividing up the task force funding for their efforts and the Arizona Department of Public Safety will be putting the rest of it toward the rape-kit testing.
“I am all in support of cleaning up the issue of rape kits that are not yet processed,” Penzone said. “But we should still have conversations and determine if there’s opportunity to find money elsewhere.”
KTAR’s Jim Cross and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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