- Associated Press - Friday, March 1, 2019

PHOENIX (AP) - Immigrant rights advocates oppose a move by Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone to replace a plan to remedy his office’s longstanding problems with biased treatment of Latino motorists with a new plan that emphasizes community policing.

An attorney for Penzone said the sheriff isn’t trying to abandon the goals of the current plan and instead wants to focus on building trust within the Latino community by having officers listen to concerns about law enforcement and issues affecting the quality of life.

The sheriff’s office has been undergoing a court-ordered overhaul after a federal judge in 2013 concluded that sheriff’s deputies racially profiled Latinos in then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s traffic patrols that targeted immigrants.

Despite improving its compliance rates in carrying out the overhaul, the agency is still dogged by problems with biased policing. Its latest publicly available traffic stop analysis concluded Latinos and other minorities are treated differently than whites. It found, for instance, that the average length of stops for Hispanic drivers three minutes longer than for white drivers.

Penzone has said his office is working toward asking the court at some point in the future to consider releasing it early from court supervision, which began about five years ago. His office hasn’t yet explicitly asked to be released from court supervision.

The agency didn’t respond to a question Friday morning from The Associated Press about whether the proposed replacement plan is an attempt to get relieved of some of its obligations under the court supervision.

The current constitutional policing plan includes using an alert system to help supervisors identify problematic behavior by officers and offering training to confront implicit bias and increase cultural competency within the sheriff’s office. Penzone’s attorney said the current plan’s goals won’t be included within the proposed replacement plan.

Attorneys for the Latinos who won the profiling verdict said in court records Thursday that the community policing plan is laudable in theory, but fails to show how having officers regularly meeting with community members will confront the bias that can still be seen in the agency’s traffic stops.

“One of our concerns is that the plan seems like a heavy lift, and we are not sure that the MCSO should be basically instituting an entirely new program when it’s still struggling with some of the basic elements of compliance,” Kathy Brody, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who is representing Latino motorists in the lawsuit, said in an interview.

Attorney Joseph Branco, who represents Penzone, said in court documents that the agency will continue fulfilling the tasks outlined in the current plan and that the community policing philosophy will more effectively confront officers who are engaging in problematic behavior.

Branco also said there is overlap between other court orders and the contents of the current plan.


Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud.

The decision on whether to adopt the new plan would be up to U.S. District Judge Murray Snow.

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