Maricopa Sheriff Says Flawed Data Will Delay Reform

PHOENIX (CN) – Incorrect data has delayed potential plans by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to adequately supervise any officers requiring intervention and to remedy issues of institutional bias in the agency.

A 2016 report conducted by Arizona State University’s Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety found that 12.9 percent of officers within the sheriff’s office stopped Latino and black drivers at two times the rate of non-Latino drivers in 2014 and 2015.

The report was completed as part of a long-standing racial profiling class action in federal court.

In 2011, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow ordered the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office – then helmed by self-proclaimed “America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio – to stop performing immigration patrols targeting Latinos.

Two years later, Snow found the agency used race as a factor in stopping a vehicle or initiating an investigation and barred it from continuing the practice.

On Tuesday morning, an attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office told Snow that use of a certain variable in data reviewed by ASU “called into question whether those outliers were really outliers.”

“The problem is comparing where the stops are made in the district,” Joseph Vigil told the court.

In the data provided to ASU for review, a certain variable may have incorrectly identified which district a traffic stop was conducted in if the stop was performed by an officer outside of his or her assigned district.

According to the department, officers may make stops outside of their assigned districts about 28 percent of the time.

“It doesn’t identify where the stop takes place geographically,” Vigil explained.

“If in fact the problem is in the identification of the outliers, why would any problem relate to whether or not there was institutional bias in the MCSO?” Snow asked.

Andre Segura, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned a pattern within the sheriff’s office of doubting data. The ACLU represents the class in the action.

“There was effectively no quality assurance for these variables being used within these last two or three years,” Segura said.

Vigil said the sheriff’s office, now led by Sheriff Paul Penzone, only intends to make sure “to do the interventions on the correct people that are identified as outliers.” Penzone, a Democrat, won election in November, denying Arpaio of a seventh term in office.

The attorney said the department has submitted a plan to the plaintiffs that address officers who need intervention and to address bias within the agency, but Segura challenged its adequacy.

While the plan showed “significant efforts that the sheriff has made in terms of community outreach,” Segura said it needs to be expanded on.

“We really need to increase the efforts on this agency-wide plan,” Segura told the court.

Robert Warshaw, a monitor appointed by Snow to oversee the agency’s compliance with the court order, also expressed his concerns with the proposed plan.

“There are some meritorious issues in the plan,” Warshaw said. “The plan projects itself more outward than inward.”

Warshaw told the court there needs to be an improvement in how the sheriff’s office addresses organization-wide bias, “which requires them to look internally for internal solutions.”

Vigil indicated Penzone is more than willing to work with the plaintiffs’ attorneys and with the U.S. Department of Justice, which is an intervenor in the action.

Snow has given the parties 45 days to resolve any issues with the plan.

Vigil also updated the court Tuesday on efforts to identify members of the class who are eligible for victims’ compensation.

Notices will be posted on either side of the U.S-Mexico border, in both English and Spanish.

Arpaio faces a federal criminal contempt charge stemming from the civil dispute. His trial is currently slated to start in June.


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