PHOENIX - Taxpayers in metropolitan Phoenix are expected to pay out an estimated $21 million over the next year and a half for changes ordered in response to a court ruling that found an Arizona sheriff's office racially profiled Latinos in its regular traffic and immigration patrols.
Maricopa County also would have to pick up an additional $10 million in staff and other costs each year beginning in mid-2015 to comply with the judge's order against Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office.
Immigrant rights advocates say county's costs help rebut the once-popular argument that local police agencies should get involved in immigration enforcement to lower education and health care costs related to illegal immigration because the federal government hasn't adequately protected the nation's southern border.
"That's the price you pay for going out and doing federal immigration work," said county Supervisor and longtime Arpaio critic Mary Rose Wilcox, explaining that it's more prudent to leave immigration enforcement up to federal agents who specialize in and have long been responsible for such work.
Arpaio said he doesn't regret getting involved in immigration enforcement and believes his efforts have helped lower crime in the county. He noted the Legislature passed several immigration laws in recent years that he's duty-bound to enforce. "It was worth the money, and it was worth the effort," Arpaio said.
Seven months ago, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow ruled Arpaio's office systematically singled out Latinos in its trademark immigration patrols and that sheriff's deputies unreasonably prolonged the detentions of people who were pulled over.
Arpaio is appealing the ruling and said it cast an unfavorable and unfair light on his deputies.
The cost estimates, first reported by The Arizona Republic, were provided to county officials by the sheriff's office as part of a budget-making process that's expected to end in May.
According to the estimates, the county would pay $7.6 million for the remainder of the current fiscal year that ends June 30 and another $14.2 million in the following fiscal year. After that, it's expected to cost $10 million annually as long as the sheriff's office remains under the judge's order.
The costs include the expense of installing video cameras in hundreds of the agency's patrol vehicles, additional training to ensure officers aren't making unconstitutional arrests, and the salaries, benefits, vehicles and other operating costs for a seven-person team made up of sheriff's employees to help carry out the judge's order.
The people who filed the civil case against the sheriff's office didn't seek monetary damages and instead wanted a declaration that Arpaio's office engaged in racial profiling and an order that required it to make policy changes.
The county has already spent $1.6 million defending the sheriff's office in the case.
But attorneys who won the case have asked the judge to order the county to pay $7.3 million for legal fees and others costs that they incurred while litigating the case, a request that Arpaio's attorneys have called excessive and outrageous.
The judge hasn't yet ruled on that request.