Written by Leah LeMoine, Mirelle Inglefield Category: Web Extras Issue: January 2017
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Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone: The Extended Q&A

Q: You finally won against this long-entrenched opponent of yours. What do you chalk that up to?

A: Perseverance. An attitude within our community – across the community, across all boundaries – that policing is one of the most important aspects of care for our families and they want serious law enforcement. And I'd like to think that my career gave confidence to the voters that I will serve them well.

Q: Do you think your win is an indication of a larger shift in Maricopa County and where citizens want to see things go?

A: I don't like to speak to that because I think the political spectrum here had a lot of different indications. But I would say that I think that the community has grown tired of lack of focus and waste in any governmental institution and are in opposition to that.

Q: What are your Top 3 goals for your tenure?

A: To restore transparency, trust and confidence to not only the community by what MCSO does, but to the men and women within MCSO and their role and sacrifice on behalf of that community. That's No. 1. No. 2 is to be more disciplined in our practices so that our focus is not only on crime prevention and enforcement but community relationships and outreach. And third is to become a more committed and sophisticated partner with other law enforcement agencies so that everyone in our community understands that there will be consistency in law enforcement practices throughout the Valley.

Q: A lot of people are concerned about the continuation of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's animal program/shelter MCSO Animal Safe Haven (MASH). Do you foresee it continuing? What are your plans for ensuring that criminal animal abuses are prosecuted?

A: I'm absolutely committed to protection and care of our animal friends. This is not new for me. It's something I've been invested in for many years. I will look forward to working with animal advocacy groups as well as the community so that we can all share in the effort to address these serious issues that have an impact on the quality of life for our children and our families also. Not only because pets play such a significant role in our lives as parts of our family, but violent offenders who harm animals pose a direct threat to the safety of our families. I'm actually really excited to learn more from professionals who better understand the relationship and the dynamic and see how we can enhance that to teach inmates about responsibility, care and compassion with the hopes that it will have a positive impact on reducing recidivism.

Q: Do you personally have any pets?

A: We had at one time, not much more than a year ago, four dogs. Due to age, we have two right now because we lost the other two in the last year and a half. But we have two dogs. Charlie and Nicolina. They're both bichons. But the other two were both adopted dogs from the humane society. The two that we lost were both from the humane society.

Q: I know you have long been passionate about your work with Childhelp (a nonprofit organization aimed at preventing and treating child abuse) and an advocate for children's causes, and you're a father yourself. Is that something else you want to focus on as sheriff?

A: It will be one of my top priorities to aggressively investigate and pursue anyone who harms our children, whether it be through violent acts or egregious acts such as sex offenses. You're going to see a considerable expansion of our efforts and focus on issues related to crimes against children.

Q: Where do we need the most improvement now in Maricopa County?

A: I think it begins with investigations. We have to really be detailed and disciplined in all investigations because every criminal that we catch, every offender that we catch, early on, we prevent other children from being victimized. It begins there, but you're going to see a very concerted effort targeting fugitives, primarily those who are wanted for crimes against children.

Q: And what about processing the scores of unprocessed rape kits?

A: That's another category see repeat offenders. Sexual predators are repeat offenders, so the more quickly and efficiently we can process rape kits and identify suspects, not only are we catching them for the crime[s] they committed but we're preventing other crimes. That's a situation where I need to make sure that we are working with other law enforcement partners to find best practices to quickly and efficiently process rape kits.  

Q: I know this must be the question you are getting asked the most, but I have to ask, too: Is this the end of Tent City and pink underwear?

A: We'll see. Those are the decisions I'm very pragmatic about and want to make sure that I understand all of the factors before I make the decision. But it is the end of law enforcement or detention practices that violate civil rights or are abusive in nature. We must behave as a law-abiding professional organization, and how we treat those that we come into contact with defines who we are.

Q: “Renewing, restoring and refocusing” was a campaign mantra of yours. Is image reparation a key part of what you are now tasked with? How are you handling that pressure?

A: It is, and I'm very excited about it. I think that what you're going to see, for the first time in a long time, is that we'll begin telling the stories of the men and women who do the job in the MCSO and who they really are, and we will make a full-time investment in being a part of our community so we can earn that respect.

Q: Your Italian heritage is important to you. Do you have any favorite Italian spots in the Valley or favorite restaurants in general?

A: I do. It's called VinciTorio's. It's over on Elliot and McClintock and it is one of the top, in my opinion. It's our favorite because not only the food but the atmosphere. Whatever [chef/owner] Mario [VinciTorio] chooses to make for me.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional law enforcer?

A: Boy, that's a tricky one. I gotta be careful when I answer this one. The first one that popped into my head was actually Mel Gibson from Lethal Weapon. Although I just want to make sure that it's the character from Lethal Weapon, not to be confused with Mel Gibson the Hollywood star. [laughs] His name was Riggs or something like that. He was a compassionate guy, but he was fearless in his tactics. Martin Riggs, that was his name.

Q: Our associate editor once served Sheriff Joe a scoop of rum raisin at Carvel when she was a teenager. What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

A: I gotta go just straight-up chocolate gelato.

Q: Is there anything people would be surprised to know about you or anything you want to add?

A: My family and I, my wife and I, in public we're very much part of the community. When I'm out with my family, I'm not going to stand out in a crowd because I'll be casually dressed and we'll probably be having a little too much fun. But I take my job very serious.

Q: Any fun spots for date night with your wife?

A: We're out almost every night of the week doing something. The thing we love to do, especially this time of year, are community activities. We like the dog park at Chaparral Park a lot.