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Sheriff Penzone thinks MCSO taking too long on racial profiling inquiries

(Facebook Photo/Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

PHOENIX – Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said Thursday his office was working on a solution to address the backlog of internal affairs cases tied to racial profiling in traffic stops.

The sheriff was up against a Thursday deadline whether to contest a claim to he was in contempt of court for noncompliance with a judge-ordered makeover of his agency’s internal affairs investigations.

“Our attorneys are working on some things. We’re failing to meet a particular paragraph [of the court order], where the judge feels that we should do a better job in the timeliness of these investigations. And I don’t disagree with him,” Penzone told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News.

The court requires the sheriff’s office to complete the investigations within 60 or 85 days, depending on which operation within the agency handles the cases.

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt four years ago, for disregarding a 2011 judge’s order to stop zeroing in on Hispanic drivers for traffic stops while he was sheriff.

Arpaio was pardoned of the misdemeanor conviction by then-President Donald Trump in summer 2017, a few months after Penzone took office.

Two court-ordered agency overhauls followed a 2013 profiling verdict against Arpaio – one in the traffic enforcement division and a another for internal affairs.

“This is not about what went on in the past, where there was dishonesty, where there was defiance, where there were things that just were in conflict with the law,” Penzone said.

“The reason that the court and judge is upset isn’t because we’re ignoring or hiding investigations. We’ve completed upwards of 3,000 cases in the last four years.”

Penzone added the agency was required to take every complaint. “Whether it’s anonymous, whether it’s an employee who left the office years ago, regardless, and to do a full and complete investigation of those, he said.”

Last week, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow said it made more sense to spend money fixing the problems rather than in court arguing over compliance.

“I need to own the responsibility we fall short in some capacities,” Penzone said.

“We’re looking for solutions right now, we’re trying to work with the plaintiff’s class to make sure what we believe are solutions that can lead us to these outcomes are things that are agreeable and accomplishable.”

MCSO released a study Tuesday that revealed traffic stops of Hispanic drivers in the Valley were likelier to last longer and end in searches or arrests than stops with white drivers.

“The report tries to identify patterns of implicit bias,” Penzone said. “… There are circumstances where we have bias that may face discipline and potentially termination. Thus far, I am not aware of any cases where a traffic stop led to facts that were specifically saying it was biased policing.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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