During the past several weeks, the Tribune has published editorials regarding plagiarism on the part of Pinal County Sheriff Chris Vasquez, and the Arizona Peace Office Standards and Training Board response to the issue.
At the risk of “picking a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel” (attribution uncertain), I feel compelled to respond to the Tribune’s allegation that Arizona POST is “simply protecting a powerful politician and one of its own instead of equitably enforcing the state’s rules.”
It is important for readers to know that Arizona law specifically exempts elected sheriffs from POST Board regulation (ARS 41-1823.B). The Legislature purposely took this step to make sheriffs directly accountable to the people who elect them, and not to a state regulatory agency.
The Tribune has made much of the fact that in 2005 an academy cadet was denied certification for dishonesty related to plagiarism. This incident actually involved two cadets who copied essays from the Internet. When confronted by academy staff, one cadet was truthful and was returned to training after being disciplined. The second cadet lied, and continued to lie until confronted with unassailable evidence. That cadet was dismissed by the academy, terminated by his agency, and later denied certification by Arizona POST. These actions were appropriate, and were taken because the cadet lied, not because he had plagiarized.
This is not to suggest that plagiarism is acceptable. It is inappropriate at best, and can be very serious when the intellectual property of others is used for economic gain, or in academic settings. I do not condone Vasquez’s conduct in this instance and despite the sheriff’s differing recollection, my staff and I have taken the matter seriously, not least because it involves a member of the Arizona POST Board.
The sheriff has admitted that he presented the work of others as his own. He has stated that he did so in the hope of providing a community service, without understanding the act to be plagiarism. How serious this issue is, and whether Vasquez should be sanctioned for it, is a matter to be decided by the citizens of Pinal County, not the Arizona POST Board.
Tom Hammarstrom is executive director of the Arizona Peace Office Standards and Training Board.