Report Criticizes Record Of Sheriff-Turned-TV Star In Fox's new reality show, Smile, You're Under Arrest, "America's toughest sheriff" dishes out the heat. But in reality, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's department in Maricopa County, Ariz., is coming under fire.
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Report Criticizes Record Of Sheriff-Turned-TV Star

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Report Criticizes Record Of Sheriff-Turned-TV Star

Report Criticizes Record Of Sheriff-Turned-TV Star

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This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. A new television show debuts this weekend on the Fox Reality channel.

(Soundbite of TV show "Smile, You're Under Arrest")

Unidentified Man #1: Smile, you're under arrest.

(Soundbite of patrol car siren)

SIMON: Yes, that's the name of the show. "Smile, You're Under Arrest," uses elaborate setups to lure unsuspecting fugitives who are then arrested by sheriff's deputies in Maricopa County, Arizona. That's the Phoenix area. The sheriff there is Joe Arpaio, who's been called America's toughest sheriff. In this new reality show, Sheriff Arpaio is dishing out the heat, but as NPR's Ted Robbins reports, his department is taking some heat, too.

TED ROBBINS: Sheriff Joe Arpaio stands at the podium in the squad room and addresses his deputies.

Sheriff JOE ARPAIO (Maricopa County, Arizona): This is a very dangerous assignment to go after fugitives. You'll never know what's going to happen when these guys are wanted.

ROBBINS: The premise is a twist on two TV genres, "Candid Camera," or more recently, "Punk'd," and police ride alongs, like the show "Cops." In the first episode, actors lure men with outstanding warrants against them to a fake fashion show. Then the cops...

(Soundbite of TV show "Smile, You're Under Arrest")

Unidentified Man #2: Put him in handcuffs.

ROBBINS: Joe Arpaio first became famous with his tent city for prisoners, putting 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 this show because it seemed like a good fit and because it cost his department nothing. In fact, Arpaio says it saved money.

Sheriff ARPAIO: The producers went through 3,900 of our warrants to research a show so we had them doing our work for us.

Mr. CLINT BOLICK (Director, Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation, Goldwater Institute): To the extent it aids the law enforcement function, more power to him.

ROBBINS: Otherwise, says Clint Bolick, the sheriff is doing a lousy job. Bolick is with the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix based think-tank. He just released a report titled, "Mission Unaccomplished: The Misplaced Priorities of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office."

Mr. BOLICK: We looked at the mission of the sheriff's office as it defines it and evaluated it and then found that it comes up short in every area.

ROBBINS: The 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. Meanwhile, deputies are routinely sent to Honduras to train police there, and back home, Bolick says, the sheriff's highly publicized immigrant sweeps have not netted a single major smuggler.

Mr. BOLICK: 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? Certainly, the latter.

Sheriff ARPAIO: I'm very disappointed about that Goldwater Institute, and I have nothing to do with it. I will never have anything to do with it.

ROBBINS: Arpaio may be disappointed because the Goldwater Institute is a rock-ribbed conservative/libertarian outfit. Up until now, criticism has come from local newspapers and liberal activists who oppose the immigration sweeps. The sheriff dismisses the report as a rehash of old charges or inaccurate. Clint Bolick says it's as accurate as the sheriff's own recordkeeping.

Mr. BOLICK: It's atrocious. If you live in almost any town or city that has a police department and you're concerned about crime statistics in your neighborhood, 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.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBBINS: Last month, Joe Arpaio easily won re-election. And he says, he'll keep doing things his own way including "Smile, You're Under Arrest."

(Soundbite of TV show "Smile, You're Under Arrest")

Sheriff ARPAIO: All I want is to catch fugitives. So, you guys are willing to go do it? Hey, be my guest.

Unidentified Man #3: OK, we're rolling on all cameras, guys.

ROBBINS: Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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