Fox's new show Smile, You're Under Arrest uses elaborate set-ups to lure unsuspecting fugitives to arrest by sheriff's deputies in Maricopa County, Ariz.
That's Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jurisdiction. He's been called "America's toughest sheriff," and on the TV show, Arpaio dishes out the heat. But in reality, his department is coming under fire.
"It's a very dangerous assignment, going after fugitives," Arpaio tells his deputies in a scene from the show. "You never know what's going to happen when these guys are wanted."
The premise of the show is a twist on two TV genres, Punked-style prank shows and police ride-alongs like Cops. In the first episode, actors lure men with outstanding warrants against them to a fake fashion show. Then the cops put them in handcuffs.
Arpaio first became notorious with his tent city for prisoners. He put them in pink underwear and striped pajamas. More recently, he's had deputies arrest illegal immigrants in controversial neighborhood sweeps. He says he agreed to do the show because it seemed like a good fit — and because it costs his department nothing. In fact, Arpaio says, it has saved the department money.
"The producers went through 3,900 of our warrants to research the show, so we had them doing our work for us," he says.
But Arpaio has his critics — among them Clint Bolick at The Goldwater Institute. Bolick just released a report titled: "Mission Unaccomplished: The Misplaced Priorities of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office." He says Arpaio is doing a lousy job.
"We looked at the mission of the sheriff's office as it defines it, and evaluated it, and found that it comes up short in every area," he says.
Bolick's report notes the violent crime rate in Maricopa County — including homicides — is up, far higher than in Phoenix or neighboring Mesa. The response time for 911 calls is twice that of Phoenix. The sheriff's jails recently lost accreditation for not providing adequate health care to inmates. Deputies are routinely sent to Honduras to train police there but back home, Bolick says, the sheriff's highly publicized immigrant sweeps have not netted a single major smuggler.
"If you've got limited resources, who do you go after -– the guy who is here to work, or the guy who is making millions of dollars bringing in thousands of illegal immigrants?" Bolick says. "Certainly the latter."
Arpaio says he's disappointed with the report. "I had nothing to do with it and will never have anything to do with it," he says.
The Goldwater Institute is a conservative-libertarian outfit. Up until now, criticism of the sheriff has come from local newspapers and liberal activists who oppose the immigration sweeps.
The sheriff disputes the report as a rehash of old charges or inaccurate. Bolick says that's about as accurate as the sheriff's own record-keeping.
"It's atrocious," Bolick says. "If you live in almost any town or city that has a police department, and you're concerned about crime statistics, you can go online and find out exactly what the crime rates are. If you go on the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, you'll see a lot of self-congratulatory information, but you will not see any statistics."
Last month Arpaio easily won re-election. And he says he'll keep doing things his own way — including Smile, You're Under Arrest.