Pinal sheriff plagiarizes in monthly letters - East Valley Tribune: News

Pinal sheriff plagiarizes in monthly letters

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Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2008 7:24 pm | Updated: 11:58 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Pinal County Sheriff Chris Vasquez has plagiarized more than a dozen times in his monthly letters since taking office three years ago, lifting text from numerous Web sites, journalists, lawmakers and even President Bush.

The plagiarism is extensive. And in many cases, the text is copied verbatim and unattributed with copied material that ranges in size from a few sentences to entire speeches.

Tribune Editorial: Pinal sheriff’s plagiarism merits investigation

Read Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski's Oct. 1, 2004, speech on meth epidemic

Read Pinal County Sheriff Chris Vasquez's Sept., 2005, speech on meth posted on Vasquez4Sheriff.com

Vasquez admitted that he directly "copies and pastes" material from outside sources into many of his letters without attribution.

He added that he doesn't think it's wrong.

"You can call it plagiarism if you want," Vasquez said. "I'm just providing a public service."

The letters are distributed to newspapers across the county that print them each month. They also were posted on Vasquez's campaign Web site. However, they were removed Wednesday afternoon after the Tribune inquired about them.

Experts say the plagiarized passages raise serious issues of integrity and credibility, especially because the sheriff is an elected official and sits on the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, or AZPOST, which determines punishments for police officers.

"If they are deceiving the public about this, then what else are they deceiving the public about?" said Ted Burke, a former police officer and member of the Institute of Criminal Justice Ethics in New York City.

"This is deception and a matter of ethics," he said. "The public's trust in police can get hurt."

However, the sheriff said he and others at AZPOST think any controversy surrounding plagiarism in his letters is humorous.

"I told (AZPOST) exactly what I told you," Vasquez said. "You know what they did? They laughed, and they said how stupid this is and that they don't have a problem with what I'm doing."

However, in 2005, the AZPOST board permanently denied a police cadet certification because he submitted plagiarized essays with his job application, board records show. The cadet's name wasn't released.

Vasquez has written more than 30 letters since taking office in 2005. They are signed only by the sheriff and do not attribute or list any other source.

The letters cover a variety of subjects, including methamphetamine use, ATV riding and child violence, and they are reviewed by Vasquez's spokesman, Mike Minter, before being released.

Using an Internet search, the Tribune found text in 14 letters that's exactly replicated from other sources.

However, it's not clear if other letters contain plagiarized material.

The Tribune contacted several of the original writers, and only one gave permission to Vasquez. The rest had never heard of or been contacted by the sheriff, who said he doesn't feel he needed to seek permission.

One of the most telling plagiarism examples comes in the sheriff's September 2005 letter about meth.

The letter was almost an exact copy of a speech given by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski 11 months earlier.

The only key difference: Every time the word "Oregon" appeared, it was replaced with Arizona or Pinal County. A key statistic in the letter also was kept, stating that meth is responsible for 85 percent of all property crimes.

That may be true in Oregon, but not necessarily in Arizona. Recent surveys and studies cited by the Arizona Attorney General's Office find results that are much lower. Vasquez said the statistic is true. However, he could not verify it or remember when he wrote the letter.

Vasquez also wrote: "In recent months alone, I have read of a 9 month old who climbed out of a two story window because his parents were too strung out on a Meth crash to wake up."

Kulongoski's communications director, Anna Richter Taylor, said she recalls the baby case. "That's an Oregon-specific story," she said. "I remember because I helped write (the speech)."

The speech also was published Oct. 5, 2004, in The Oregonian newspaper.

But Kulongoski is only one of the lawmakers whose material has been lifted.

An opinion piece about remembering fallen police officers written by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, was copied by Vasquez nearly word for word. The only changes were a swap of Idaho for Pinal County and the addition of a few sentences at the end to include information about Pinal County's peace officer memorial.

Vasquez also copied text from Bush's 2003 proclamation against domestic violence. In his November 2005 letter, he used three of Bush's paragraphs.

Vasquez sits on the AZPOST board, which has the stated mission of overseeing the integrity of Arizona's law enforcement officers by reviewing cases and revoking or suspending the certification of those who violate certain standards.

One of those violations is dishonesty, and the board hears dozens of those cases every year.

Dishonesty also was the classification of the case against the cadet denied certification for plagiarism.

Robert Forry, an AZPOST standards and certification administrator, said that dishonesty cases are taken very seriously by the board.

"The obvious reason is it affects the integrity of the profession," hesaid.

While officials at AZPOST also said plagiarism is a concern, they said they weren't authorized to comment about Vasquez's letters. AZPOST's executive director Tom Hammarstrom was unavailable Wednesday.

Vasquez did not directly answer several questions about why he wouldn't attribute the articles. However, he said he did understand what plagiarism is and that he didn't think it was wrong to print the writing of others under his name.

However, other elected officials feel differently.

"Obviously attribution is a good thing, and whenever we use sources we attribute that material," said Crapo's spokesman, Lindsay Nothern. "We are reluctant to accuse anyone of anything. But in the case of this fallen officers memorial, his op-ed was posted to a national Web site and a lot of people could have had access to it."

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