Breaking the Mold: Why there is only one Sheriff Joe Arpaio

By: Paul A. Ibbetson

Recently, I had the unique opportunity to interview the man the media calls the “Toughest Sheriff in America,” Sheriff Joe Arpaio, on my radio show the Conscience of Kansas. It was an extremely dynamic interview, and I invite people to listen to both part one and part two of the show in its entirety. My goal going into the interview was to acquire some insights into one of the nation’s most interesting law enforcement officers to pin on the badge. I also had a secondary question of my own to satisfy, and that was, can the Arpaio system of law enforcement be duplicated across this country?

In my quest to satisfy these questions, I believe that I discovered a few interesting characteristics about the man from Arizona who designs pink underwear for his prisoners. The creator of Tent City, where prisoners live an austere life of no-frill labor on the once abandoned chain gangs, Arpaio projects the image of the no-nonsense dispenser of justice. However, if one looks at the inner scheme of Arpaio’s operation, it becomes apparent that what appears to be simply “tough justice” is, in fact, a very psychologically constructed design for the purpose of deterring future offenders. Simply put, Arpaio’s programs of deterrents, such as the hotel “vacancy” signs at Tent City, are products of a carefully considered plan and should not be sold short as simply brute fear mongering.

If we are to address the issue of hype versus reality when it comes to Arpaio, we should settle the matter of the difference between newshound and showman. Sherrif Joe Arpaio is without a doubt one of the best showmen to wear a badge. This upsets some within both the public and media, for more reasons than one. Some people believe that law enforcement leaders should be silent, stoic figures who work in the shadows in a quiet, efficient robotic fashion. Arpaio flies in the face of such thinking with his multi-media presentation that has gotten the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office on the lips, if not the minds, of people around the globe. Some people fear backlash effects of police programs made public, and to be honest, some folks just hate law enforcement.

Somewhere along the line Sheriff Joe Arpaio has learned what less maligned figures in history have grasped, and that is, an innovation without marketing is an innovation wasted. In complete contradiction to the newshounds that flash empty programs with false promises, Arpaio uses his creative showmanship to market the bottom line of his programs in low recidivism rates and millions of dollars saved for the citizens of Arizona.

Of course, there are always some downsides to the assessments of individuals, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio is no exception. Through the course of our conversation, it was made clear to me the negative impacts of enforcing the law in a growing world of moral relativism. Arpaio, who has struggled against open border groups, the ACLU, rogue mayors, and others, to enforce the law of the land, will tell those who would ask that he is undaunted and undeterred by the resistance that he faces routinely. While I do not question Arpaio’s resolve about the issues in which he has strong conviction, I do believe that he is impacted more than he lets on by the daily onslaught of opposition to enforcing the law and securing the border.

Despite the human tendency to tire in the face of constant governmental and special interest opposition, Arpaio perseveres every day accomplishing the job he was elected to do: the feat of which is nothing short of extraordinary. After almost 16 years in the trenches as the “Toughest Sheriff in America,” it is unknown how long he can keep up this pace. Any question about transplanting the Arpaio system throughout the country was answered at the end of our interview: I’m afraid it’s not going to happen.

Having lived and worked within the law enforcement community for years, I have met many motivated and capable people who have inspired me with their abilities. However, with that said, I think the mold has been broken with Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I am skeptical that there will soon be another individual who wears the badge that also embodies the characteristics of the thinker, philosopher, writer, and showman, encased within a backbone of steel who has the will to face opposition day in and day out.

I have come to the conclusion that the best outcome for which we can hope in the future is that the work of Arpiao can be repeated to some degree, although never to the same extent. This may seem a little sad, but it is here that I found the silver lining believed lost after the conclusion of my interview with the “Toughest Sheriff in America.” Specifically, even if no complete replication of the Arpaio system is ever to be found again, if portions live on and are effective in other areas, then the old system itself has been improved. If this be the case, then future agencies will owe a debt to the often misunderstood Sheriff from Arizona who brings pink underwear clad inmates under the Big Top of justice, once again defeating the naysayers who said it could not be done.

Paul A. Ibbetson is a published author and lecturer on the Patriot Act. He is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and is currently completing his PhD. in sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of the book “Living Under The Patriot Act: Educating A Society” and is the host of the award winning radio show the “Conscience of Kansas” on the wildcat 91.9 f.m .

About The Author Paul A. Ibbetson:
Paul A. Ibbetson is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and his Ph.D. in Sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of several books including the 2011 release “The Good Fight: Why Conservatives Must Take Back America.” Paul is also the radio host of the Kansas Broadcasting Association’s 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 award-winning radio program, Conscience of Kansas airing on KRMR The Patriot 105.7 FM, For interviews or questions, please contact him at

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