MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From member station KJZZ in Phoenix, Paul Atkinson reports.
PAUL ATKINSON: This week, Arpaio held a press conference to announce two of his detention officers and a deputy were arrested for allegedly helping a Mexican drug cartel.
JOE ARPAIO: That a deputy sheriff would provide information and associate with these drug and human traffickers is despicable.
ATKINSON: In light of these revelations, Sheriff Arpaio vows to clean up shop.
ARPAIO: So if there's any problems in this office, I'm going to take action. I don't care who they are - top to bottom.
ATKINSON: Arpaio was elected sheriff of Maricopa County in 1992 after a 30-year career in the Drug Enforcement Administration. He runs Arizona's largest jail system, where he first gained attention for banning girlie magazines, serving inmates baloney sandwiches and forcing them to wear pink underwear.
PAUL CHARLTON: He knew how to play the media.
ATKINSON: Paul Charlton is a former U.S. attorney for Arizona.
CHARLTON: He knew what policies that he could implement would draw media attention, not only in the state, not only in the country, but internationally. But he was at the same time, an individual - when I was in the U.S. Attorney's Office - who understood what it meant to be a good law enforcement officer.
ATKINSON: Charlton says that changed in late 2006 after a new conservative county prosecutor was elected and Arpaio's focus shifted to illegal immigration.
CHARLTON: I think Joe Arpaio lost his perspective. He lost his way and began to become more concerned with pursuing his political enemies than he did with doing what's right, than with doing justice.
ATKINSON: Even a member of Arpaio's administration concedes the sheriff may have lost his focus. At a press conference this week, Chief Deputy Jack MacIntyre told reporters the sheriff might have enjoyed spending too much time with the media and not enough overseeing his agency.
CHIEF DEPUTY JACK M: And there are a lot of human frailties and a lot of reasons for it. Certainly, I don't think Joe Arpaio has ever claimed to be perfect.
ATKINSON: For NPR News, I'm Paul Atkinson in Phoenix.
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