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Joe Arpaio becomes Maricopa County’s longest-serving sheriff

PHOENIX — Joe Arpaio is now the longest-serving sheriff is Maricopa County’s history.

Arpaio has been in office for 22 1/2 years, surpassing former Sheriff Luther C. Boies, who held the office from 1946 to 1968.

Arizona State University professor emeritus Bruce Merrill said Arpaio’s tenure in office has been a bit of a roller coaster.

“For the first number of years that he was in office, he was very tough on crime, on criminals, on people that broke the law,” Merrill said. “That was his identity initially.”

Merrill said older populations, such as that in Sun City, liked Arpaio’s tough guy approach. Arpaio’s approval rating only grew during his early years, particularly when he did things like putting prisoners in tents, making them wear pink underwear and eat bologna sandwiches.

But later, Merrill said, Arpaio became known for something different.

“He’s, unfortunately, probably, within the last few years, been overly identified with the illegal immigration issue. That will probably do more to establish a legacy than the other things.”

Arpaio has become known around the world. Merrill said his celebrity could have easily gained him a higher post than sheriff.

“There’s been a couple of times where he’s actually thought about running for governor,” Merrill said, adding that polls showed Arpaio had a good shot at the postition.

Merrill said that one reason he’s been able to stay in office is his ability to handle the media.

“He really understood the press. He understood how to manipulate the press, and how to get press attention. That’s why he certainly has virtually 100 percent name I.D. in Arizona,” he said.

Arpaio is now 82 years old, and is facing a legal challenge. Merrill thinks now may be the time for the sheriff to move on to other things.

“He’s had a pretty strong legacy,” he said. “You’d kind of like to see people go out while they’re on the top, rather than take a chance to be defeated.”

Learn more about Arpaio’s career below:

KTAR’s Bob McClay contributed to this report.