PHOENIX – Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone has set off a firestorm with the announcement that his office is recruiting “snitches” amid the COVID-19 health crisis. Politicians and members of the public have described Penzone’s tip line to something out of the literary classic 1984 or “Communist Romania.”
Elections matter… pic.twitter.com/2stm7jh9dD
— Bret Roberts (@BretRbrts) May 3, 2020
At the same time, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb and Mohave County Sheriff Douglas Schuster have received bipartisan praise for their announcements that they are refusing to cite or arrest business owners or individuals for violating the state’s emergency coronavirus restrictions.
The Sheriff of a county is elected by and reports only to the citizens in the county. No governor or mayor can tell him how to do his job. Sheriff Penzone of MCSO drop your snitch line to catch law abiding citizens doing Constitutional things.
— sheridan4sheriff2020 (@GERARDSHERIDAN) May 3, 2020
Penzone’s likely challenger in the 2020 Maricopa County Sheriff’s race, Jerry Sheridan, also blasted Penzone’s neighbor reporting “snitch” program. “While other Arizona Sheriffs have rightfully concluded that their sworn duty is to the Constitution and their job is to safeguard the public’s safety,” said Sheridan referring to Lamb and Schuster, “Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone is not only ignoring the rights of Arizonans, he has proactively established Tip Lines to encourage citizens to observe and report on their neighbors. That is wrong, it divides us, and it adds needless stress to the workload of our deputies.”
Sheridan, who spent 32 years in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, rising all the way to Chief Deputy (#2 in the department under the Sheriff himself), argues that there is no need to extend the stay-at-home executive order issued by Governor Doug Ducey. “The goal of the shutdown has been to “flatten the curve” and ensure that our hospitals are not overwhelmed by the Covid-19 virus. Well our hospitals are reporting empty beds and have even restarted elective surgeries. Capacity is no longer an issue.”
“What is clear is that the people believe these restrictions on their freedoms have gone on long enough and are no longer in the public interest,” continued Sheridan.
Sheridan and other law enforcement officers have argued that keeping people in a stressful environment for weeks on end is adding to the number of domestic violence calls, assaults, and other crimes. “Pile on the financial stress that comes from losing a job, being unable to even start looking for a new one, and not being able to pay bills,” says Sheridan, “and you have a recipe for disaster.”
Sheridan, like Lamb and Schuster believe that sheriffs are unique in that they are Constitutional offices which require them to defend the Constitution when faced with orders from the executive branches that might violate it.
“Our law enforcement can and should continue to ensure that large gatherings are discouraged and that people are warned about the possible consequences of breaking social distancing guidelines.” Sheridan concluded, “But the idea that we’re going to arrest people and put them in a small cage filled with people because they were guilty of standing too close to people is simply brain dead and a waste of law enforcement resources that are needed to chase actual criminals engaged in real crime.”
Last week, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was embroiled in controversy when deputies were sent to enforce the governor’s executive order in Fountain Hills. Penzone attacked the small business owner in the press as displaying “selfish and unacceptable” behavior.
Currently, restaurants are only allowed to be open for takeout and delivery service. According to reports the offensive behavior involved allowing customers to use the restaurant’s patio tables and chairs while waiting for food to drinking a bucket of beers sold “to-go.”