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Reality TV Turns Surreal as Celebrity Cop Steven Seagal, Fleeing Sexual Assault Investigation in Louisiana, Joins Joe Arpaio in Cockfighting Raid

The world of media-friendly "tough-guy" law enforcement sunk into self-parody this week.

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It wouldn't be the last time “Sheriff Joe” would face charges of squandering tax dollars. As journalist Valeria Fernandez reported last year, a county budget committee “accused his department of misspending as much as $80 million on immigration sweeps, public-corruption probes, and a range of other unauthorized activities and expenditures over the past five years.”

The Board of Supervisors responded by placing Arpaio’s office under new budget restrictions as Maricopa County Board attorney Tom Irvine called the improper expenditures the “biggest misspending of state funds in the history of Arizona.”

A 2008 analysis of crime statistics by the conservative Goldwater Institute ( PDF) charged that “Although MCSO is adept at self-promotion and is an unquestionably “tough” law-enforcement agency, under its watch violent crime rates recently have soared, both in absolute terms and relative to other jurisdictions.”

It has diverted resources away from basic law-enforcement functions to highly publicized immigration sweeps, which are ineffective in policing illegal immigration and in reducing crime generally, and to extensive trips by MCSO officials to Honduras for purposes that are nebulous at best. Profligate spending on those diversions helped produce a financial crisis in late 2007 that forced MCSO to curtail or reduce important law-enforcement functions.

In terms of support services, MCSO has allowed a huge backlog of outstanding warrants to accumulate, and has seriously disadvantaged local police departments by closing satellite booking facilities. MCSO’s detention facilities are subject to costly lawsuits for excessive use of force and inadequate medical services. Compounding the substantive problems are chronically poor record-keeping and reporting of statistics, coupled with resistance to public disclosure.

In 2009, the FBI looked into allegations that Arpaio had used his official powers to settle scores with political opponents. He has been dodging a Department of Justice probe into whether the MCSO discriminates against Hispanics – last year DOJ filed suit against Arpaio over his refusal to cooperate with the probe.

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