In a pair of reports in 2008-09, the Goldwater Institute documented a very disturbing practice in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office: a persistent habit of declaring serious crimes solved and closing cases without serious investigation, much less arrest or identification of suspects.
Amidst the swirl of funding misappropriations and alleged internal misconduct, MCSO’s failure in this core law-enforcement function has gone relatively unnoticed. But the real-world ramifications are enormous, because declaring a crime solved without investigating it means that criminals are at large, no one is looking for them, and the victim likely never will have justice.
When El Mirage formed its own police department several years ago, it obtained dozens of files from MCSO in which serious criminal cases were closed with little or no investigation.
More recently, according to ABC 15, MCSO itself reopened 500 cases dating back to 2005, and found that 400 lacked investigative work. Many of the uninvestigated cases reportedly involved sex crimes against young victims.
In our reports, the Goldwater Institute recommended that all law enforcement agencies be required to report essential statistics such as number of crimes, cases closed by arrest or otherwise, and cases prosecuted; and that random audits should be conducted to ensure that cases that are declared solved actually resulted in the arrest or identification of a suspect who is beyond the reach of law enforcement. Unfortunately, those recommendations were stripped from a government transparency bill in the legislature in 2010. These recommendations were introduced again this year and didn’t even get a hearing.
If there is a silver lining to this dark cloud perhaps it is that all this media attention will finally prompt the legislature into action next year. If there is one area beyond all others in which people need to be able to hold government accountable, it is those entities charged with the high responsibility of protecting our safety, our lives, and our property.
Clint Bolick is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.