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Five months into office, Penzone says problems with politics still persist in MCSO

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone speaks to the media in the day room of the Tent City Jail, Wednesday, May 24, 2017, in Phoenix. Penzone, who defeated former Sheriff Joe Arpaio last year, announced plans in early April to tear down the complex. (AP Photo/Matt York)

LISTEN: Sheriff Paul Penzone

PHOENIX — It looks like there’s trouble in paradise for Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone.

Penzone told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac and Gaydos on Thursday that some elected officials have refused to work and communicate with him since he first took office in January.

“There are some other folks who are elected officials that will not sit in a room” with him because he is a Democrat, Penzone said. “And that is a disservice to the community that we are responsible to answer to.”

While Penzone has only been in office for five months, he has already made some drastic changes in the operation that his predecessor, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, ran for 24 years.

Most notably, the sheriff announced in April that he would close Tent City, the outdoor jail that Arpaio used to hold low-level offenders.

The jail was the source of much controversy, particularly in 2003 when temperatures inside the tents hit 145 degrees during a heatwave. It was also deemed inadequate by Amnesty International in 1997.

Penzone said the office under Arpaio’s reign was “political in nature” for “far too long,” which “utilized…influence for the benefit of politics.”

“Those days are gone. I’m the sheriff of everyone in Maricopa County and I do what I believe to be constitutional, lawful, law-abiding. And I do think that for some, it’s a change and an adjustment,” Penzone said.

“I’m going to continue to do the job the right way, and anyone who criticizes that, I just ask you to look at the facts and evaluate and remove politics from it,” he added.

Even though Penzone did not name any names, he admitted that he is “bothered” by elected officials who do not discuss public safety matters with him.

“We don’t have to agree when the conversation is done, but before decisions are made or impacted that are about law enforcement or my ability to run this office, show me the courtesy as the office holder to have that conversation so we can be honest and upfront with one another,” he said.

But the sheriff said he tries not to get hung up on issues that distract him and don’t allow him to move forward.

“Anything I get distracted by or held up by means I’m not moving forward, so those are issues that we have to plug away and do what we gotta do,” Penzone said. “For others I have to ask myself, Is this about Maricopa County? Is this about being an American? Or is it about politics first, and those other things come second and third, which is unacceptable.”

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