Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said Wednesday that his office will be ready to 'protect democracy' during the upcoming elections.
The sheriff said he never anticipated his office would be so involved in the election process, but he called out the escalating undermining of election processes and armed protests as a need for law enforcement to be prepared.
"Words matter," said Penzone. "When you say things that cause people to believe that they cannot trust in a system that is trustworthy, then people act emotionally, and emotions lead to bad judgment and bad behavior. My hope is that you realize we are serious about this. There’s going to be zero tolerance, we are going to protect democracy."
Sheriff Penzone said his team has taken multiple steps to be 'proactive' before the elections.
The sheriff sent a memo to all his employees, barring any 'paid time off' during the August and November election weeks. Penzone said it was to ensure they were adequately staffed and could respond effectively to whatever issues may arise at polling places, while still covering the county.
MCSO employees have also been working with county prosecutors and elections officials to become better trained on election laws.
Penzone said more 'plain clothes' deputies will be out at polling places to ensure there is no intimidation or harassment that could interfere with someone’s right to vote.
The county was somewhat caught off guard by the unprecedent backlash and intense reaction to the 2020 Presidential election protests, particularly outside the Maricopa County Tabulation Center, which saw heavily armed protesters for days.
Penzone thought his team did a good job in 2020, but he did not want them to have to 'react' on the fly this time. Instead, they will be prepared for whatever comes their way.
"Everybody...gets to make a decision who they want to be on election day. Do they want to be someone that respects this nation and democracy, and respects law-enforcement — and there’s no reason for us to be engaged — or do they want to be someone who knows what the line is and they cross that line and force us to react to their behavior," said the sheriff.
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer was also at the news conference.
He said it’s disappointing to see people already trying to discredit the process but encouraged anyone with questions or skepticism to get involved with the election process as a volunteer.
"Our goal is always safe, secure, and transparent elections," said Richer. "We want to show people how this process works. We know this process is tested."