As someone commonly described as America’s toughest lawman, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has become adept at handling criticism from his opponents. One of the highlights of the upcoming Western Conservative Conference, however, will give his friends and fans an opportunity to heap on some good-natured insults.
In addition to sharing his unique perspective with attendees of the two-day event, Arpaio will be the subject of a dinner roast headed by U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon. The Maricopa County, Ariz. sheriff’s long career in law enforcement will provide plenty of fodder for what promises to be a riotous event.
A Korean War era Army veteran, Arpaio joined police forces in Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas, Nev. shortly after his military career ended. From there, he began to earn a nationwide reputation as a fierce crime fighter within the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He infiltrated established drug cartels around the world and soon presided over the DEA’s Arizona division.
More than 20 years ago, he kicked off his first campaign to become the chief of what is now America’s third largest sheriff’s office. He won that bid and has been enthusiastically re-elected by Arizona voters in every election since.
Early into his tenure, he began what he calls Tent City, which, as its name implies, houses 2,000 convicts in an outdoor compound covered by canvass tents. He has also combatted public blight by establishing prisoner chain gangs responsible for cleaning up streets throughout the county.
In order to cut costs, Arpaio has developed the most inexpensive prison menu in the nation, with meals costing less than 40 cents each to prepare. Furthermore, inmates are required to work for the money to purchase their own food.
He continues to keep criminals in line by banning almost any imaginable vice and limiting exposure to television. Also, his department’s policy of issuing pink underwear to male inmates was established to prevent prisoners from stealing county-issued boxer shorts.
Arpaio is not entirely focused on making jail tough on inmates. His initiatives include “Hard Knocks High,” which is the nation’s only accredited high school sponsored by a sheriff’s department. Repeat visitors to Tent City are also kept to a minimum through his office’s substance abuse treatment program.
His Cold Case Posse has aided in the resolution of numerous unsolved crimes. The volunteer task force has also been instrumental in investigating the controversy surrounding Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
He continues to remain popular among Arizonans due primarily to the effectiveness of his policies. Now in his 80s, Arpaio shows no signs of slowing down and looks forward to seeking another term in office.
His many supporters across the U.S. will have a unique chance to experience the lighter side of this conservative hero during his roast Feb. 22. Early bird pricing is available online until Jan. 1.
–B. Christopher Agee
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