Joe Arpaio and the Phenomenon of the 'Toughest Sheriff in America'



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Since first winning election as the Sheriff of Maricopa County in 1992, Joe Arpaio has cultivated an image as the ‘toughest sheriff in America.’ While Sheriff Arpaio has often been the subject of headlines and contemporary journalism, other than a handful of scholarly studies focused upon incarceration methods within Maricopa County, scant historical study has been devoted to Arpaio. The study will examine issues of race, ethnicity, conflict, and cooperation in the borderlands from the seventeenth into the twentieth centuries. Furthermore, the thesis will examine the mystique of law enforcement in the West, before finally exploring the confluence of all these factors that ultimately facilitated the rise, notoriety, and resiliency of Joe Arpaio as the Sheriff of Maricopa County.
The research is taken from a combination of primary and secondary sources. The first two chapters rely heavily upon assorted secondary scholarly studies related to law enforcement in the West, race, ethnicity, and intermittent periods of conflict and cooperation in the borderlands. The final two chapters use primary sources ranging from the Arizona Republic, the Phoenix New Times, Arpaio’s two autobiographies, and other periodicals to polling data culled from the Behavior Research Center to examine the tenure of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Although Sheriff Arpaio’s incarceration methods and fixation to undocumented immigration has made him the center of contentious political debates since 1992, the thesis will mostly eschew those disputes. Rather, the thesis will seek to study Arpaio as a historical figure. In total, the thesis will argue factors unique to the borderlands, namely persistent questions of race, the rise of the Sunbelt, conservative politics, contemporary concerns over crime and undocumented immigration buttressed the influence and notoriety of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.



Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), borderlands, undocumented immigration, race and ethnicity, Phoenix, Arizona, Sunbelt