(Photo: Reuters/Joshua Lott)
The man who some have called "America's Toughest Sheriff" announced Thursday that his deputies will begin placing wooden crosses in the desert where the bodies of immigrants have been found.
Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., said in a statement that the crosses will serve as a reminder of the dangers of crossing the harsh desert environment. The department has investigated 14 deaths in the Gila Bend area since June, according to a press release, and four bodies were found in the last week alone.
The crosses, which were constructed by inmates at the Tent City Jail in Phoenix, also serve another purpose: They are numbered and GPS sensitive so those who call 911 for help can be easily located by rescuers.
"Every life is precious," said Arpaio. "It is our duty to preserve the peace and protect the public, no matter their national status or citizenry."
While several bodies have been found in the desert near Gila Bend, an area known for human trafficking activity, according to Arpaio, another 30 people have been rescued in the area this summer. Two men suffering from heat-related illnesses were rescued from the desert earlier this week.
Though Arpaio says he wants to protect those who choose to travel through the unsafe territory he doesn't want Maricopa County taxpayers footing the bill. Courts have deemed border security a responsibility of the federal government, he says, and it can cost thousands of dollars for his office to perform search and rescue missions and to investigate deaths.
"If the Federal Government, for whatever reason, cannot secure our borders, it should be their responsibility, and not Arizona taxpayers, to pay for these rescues," he said.
Arpaio became sheriff in 1993, and since then has been criticized by some and lauded by others for some of his unorthodox initiatives. He famously makes prisoners wear pink underwear, a requirement that was instituted after he learned inmates were stealing white boxers.
He is also tough on prisoners, having banned coffee, movies, smoking, unrestricted television and pornographic magazines in all prisons, according to his office's website, and his chain gangs provide thousands of dollars in free labor to local communities.
Arpaio, whose office was found by a federal judge to have racially profiled Latinos at times, survived a recall campaign earlier this year after those seeking to have him removed from office were unable to gather the required number of signatures to force a recall election, according to The Associated Press.