Editorial: Sheriff Alex Villanueva is out but leaves behind a deeply damaged department
On Friday, March 28, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office celebrated the grand opening of the new $70 million county headquarters in Maricopa County. It was the latest sign of progress for an agency that is struggling to regain its image after years of scandal and mismanagement.
In the opening ceremony, Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the newly named executive director, James L. Moore, thanked the new Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office team for working tirelessly in the face of constant challenges.
During the ceremony, Villanueva acknowledged the past and spoke about what lies ahead.
“To have our first budget approved, to have our first contract awarded, to have our first officers hired – that is what we’re all working towards,” Villanueva said. “When it comes to the first day of the new department, that is what we all will do. It is a new day for us.”
The new sheriff’s office is in many respects a return to the old one. It is led by a former Republican state senator, former prosecutor, former district attorney and current judge overseeing the county’s first-ever drug court. But what we’ve seen since the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office opened on the first day of the new century had little to do with politics.
In the past eight months, Villanueva has overseen a complete overhaul of the agency. To begin with, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is not nearly as much of a law enforcement agency as it was during its peak in the late 1970s, early 1980s.
From 2004 to 2012, when it was reorganized into the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office claimed more than 5,000 law enforcement and corrections arrests and 7,600 bookings a year – a rate that dwarfed its current 527 bookings a year and over 5,200 arrests a year.
In order to put a stop to the growth that was on the rise, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office hired more jail and police officers in an effort to reduce the number of arrests the department made. It put the deputy jail inspectors