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Seven years after Joe Arpaio was ousted as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, taxpayers are still paying for legal and compliance costs related to the racial profiling verdict stemming from his immigration crackdowns. The costs are expected to reach $314 million by mid-2025, with $41 million recently approved by county officials. A federal judge determined 11 years ago that sheriff’s deputies racially profiled Hispanics, resulting in costly overhauls of the agency’s traffic patrol operations and internal affairs unit. Compliance with court-ordered changes must be achieved for three consecutive years before the spending can stop.

Critics have cited the heavy compliance costs in discussions about future law enforcement initiatives in Arizona. Earlier this year, the Phoenix city’s potential consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department was questioned due to these costs. Immigrant rights advocates have also raised concerns about a proposed ballot measure that would involve local police in immigration enforcement. Despite this, there is hope for improvement with the leadership of current Sheriff Russ Skinner, who has acknowledged the agency’s failures and vowed to correct them. The overwhelming majority of the spending goes towards hiring employees to meet court requirements and a separate staff to monitor compliance.

Joe Arpaio, who is now running for mayor, defended his immigration crackdowns and blamed the ongoing taxpayer costs on a judge’s ruling. He claimed that Arizona’s 2005 immigrant smuggling ban allowed him to conduct the patrols, despite later being convicted of criminal contempt for disobeying court orders. Traffic-stop studies have indicated that deputies still treat Hispanic and Black drivers differently, though they are not explicitly targeting Latinos. In addition to the racial profiling verdict, the lawsuit also called for changes to the sheriff’s internal affairs operation, which has faced criticism for being biased and slow in investigations.

Former Sheriff Penzone, who resigned in January, was found in civil contempt for delays in closing internal affairs investigations. The internal affairs unit has made progress in reducing a backlog of open cases, but scores from the third court order issued in November 2022 remain modest. While the agency’s compliance percentages have reached near or at 100% for two court orders, there is still work to be done to achieve full compliance. Despite ongoing challenges, there are signs of progress under the leadership of Sheriff Skinner, who has been transparent about the agency’s failures and committed to making necessary changes.

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