PHOENIX — The taxpayer bill for a racial profiling case stemming from former Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration patrols in metropolitan Phoenix is expected to reach nearly $150 million by the summer of 2020.
Officials say Maricopa County taxpayers have already paid $111.5 million in attorney and compliance costs since the lawsuit over traffic patrols targeting immigrants was filed in 2007, and the figure is projected to rise by nearly $7.4 million by the end of June.
And in the coming months, county officials are expected to approve an additional $30.8 million in compliance costs for the fiscal year ending in the summer of 2020.
No one involved in the case or in county government can say exactly when the financial hemorrhaging will slow down or end.
The spending is expected to continue until the sheriff's office is deemed by a judge to be fully compliant for three straight years with court-ordered overhauls of its traffic patrol and internal affairs operations.
Nearly six years after the agency was found to have profiled Latinos in the patrols, the sheriff's office hasn't yet been deemed totally in line with any phase of both overhauls, though overall compliance has improved since Sheriff Paul Penzone took office in 2017.
"This is not going to be resolved next year," said Supervisor Steve Gallardo, a longtime critic of Arpaio's crackdowns on immigrants. "It will be a while."
The traffic-patrol overhaul includes retraining officers on making constitutional stops, establishing an alert system to spot problematic behavior by officers, equipping deputies with body cameras and holding interventions with officers flagged for having statistical differences from their peers in how they treated Latinos.
Over the years, the costs have included a combined $17 million in legal fees for lawyers on both sides of the case and $14.9 million for a team of outsiders to monitor the sheriff's office on behalf of the judge. But the overwhelming majority of the compliance spending has been made by the sheriff's office, much of it on hiring more than 170 new employees to help meet the court's requirements.
"Sheriff Penzone is committed to reducing unnecessary expenses while ensuring an appropriate investment in the growth, oversight and management of the organization," said sheriff's spokesman Michael Cavaiola, declining to say when the spending will likely start declining.
Kathy Brody, one of the American Civil Liberties Union attorneys leading the profiling case against the sheriff's office, said Penzone has shown much more good faith in dealing with the court than Arpaio, but the agency is stagnating on certain parts of the traffic-patrol overhaul, such as adequately improving the community's trust with the agency.
Brody defended the efforts by lawyers who pressed the profiling case to get the county to pay for their legal work, as allowed under a federal law that lets the winners of civil rights cases seek reimbursement.
"Without us doing that work, we don't think MCSO would be doing what it's supposed to be doing," Brody said.
The sheriff's office has been deemed 97 percent compliant in the first phase of its traffic-operations overhaul and 77 percent compliant on the second phase. The agency is around 80 percent compliant on both phases of the overhaul to its internal affairs operations, which was criticized during Arpaio's tenure for biased decision-making and shielding sheriff's officials from accountability.
Gallardo, a former Democratic state legislator, said Arpaio's crackdowns should serve as a cautionary tale for politicians who want local police officers to get involved in immigration enforcement, which has traditionally been a federal responsibility.
More than a decade ago, as Arizona was passing its own immigration laws, Gallardo and other lawmakers warned of the risks of local officers pulling over motorists based on their appearance. "No one imagined that we would be spending upward of $150 million," Gallardo said.