Good and honest law enforcement is the cornerstone of a nation of laws. Unfortunately Arizona has serious problems in that regard when it comes to its elected and appointed law enforcement leadership.
This week’s announcement that ex-Maricopa County Attorney Andy Thomas was disbarred for ethical breaches was another sad chapter in the failings of Arizona law enforcement’s leadership. He is also reportedly under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Thomas hasn’t been the only Arizona law enforcement officer to attract attention from authorities.
Three weeks ago, it was reported Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, Arizona’s top law enforcement officer, was under investigation by the FBI for possible illegal fundraising activities during the 2010 election. This isn’t Horne’s first brush with the law. In 1973, Horne was banned for life from being “associated with any broker, dealer, investment adviser or registered investment company” by the U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission for violating anti-fraud provisions of federal securities laws, and filing false financial reports.
On top of Thomas and Horne, it’s no secret the FBI has been looking into the activities of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his former Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott for possible civil rights violations.
Arpaio’s tough-on-crime protege Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu is under investigation for allegations stemming from an admitted love affair gone bad with a man suspected of being an illegal alien. Babeu is also reportedly being looked at by the feds for using taxpayer resources in his congressional campaign. Steve Henry, Babeu’s chief deputy and candidate for Pinal sheriff, is also reportedly under investigation over campaign issues.
Questionable law enforcement leadership conduct isn’t limited only to elected officers.
In 2005, it was reported by the Arizona Republic that Glendale Police Chief Andrew Kirkland resigned following his “inappropriate” relationship with a subordinate female officer.
In 2009, KPHO CBS 5 News reported current Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff admitted it was his voice on an audio tape telling a subordinate officer to lie to his sergeant in order to get out of work so the officer and Ryff could “step out on their wives.”
During the 2010 Arizona Senate confirmation hearing of Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Bobby Halliday, it was revealed Halliday was involved in a disturbance that was reported to police. Halliday was also quizzed about his coziness with the trucking industry, an industry regulated by DPS. After Halliday’s confirmation, DPS altered its policy and prohibited officers from making “administrative stops” on trucks, which do not require probable cause but are done to check drivers’ log books and look for safety violations. Later, Assistant Director Jack Hegarty, Halliday’s head of the highway patrol, was linked to a trucking industry lobbyist. Hegarty took an early retirement following a complaint involving possible ethical violations.
And in 2011, it was reported by the Republic that Quartzite police chief Jeff Gilbert was under investigation for abuse of power for targeting political enemies of the town council, and Goodyear police chief Mark Brown retired suddenly after questions regarding his involvement in a “cover-up” of police misconduct during a death investigation.
These are just a few examples of recent law enforcement leadership misdeeds in Arizona.
Law enforcement leaders are supposed to set an exemplary example for subordinates and the community. Those officials with character flaws are easy prey for anyone looking to corrupt our system. Law enforcement is only as good and honest as those who lead the protectors of the public.
Arizona has no minimum standards to be a police chief. Sheriffs need only be registered voters. Prosecutors must be lawyers. In some cases, police chiefs don’t even have to pass a polygraph test like a new officer would. Elected officials are exempt from polygraphs.
Arizona has some great chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors. But some aren’t what Arizona needs.
It’s time to change how chief law enforcement officers are selected.
If law enforcement fails, so does Arizona’s future.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.