From holding press conferences questioning President Obama's birth certificate to putting inmates in pink underwear, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, 79, knows how to expertly court a national audience. The Arizonan, who has been sheriff since 1993, has become a national figure largely due to his quirky ideas. Click through to see some of the "Toughest Sheriff in America's" top publicity stunts.
|Happy 18th Birthday, Tent City!|
Sheriff Joe threw a rocking shindig last August to celebrate the 18th birthday of his notorious "Tent City" jail. Arpaio sang backup to tunes such as "Jailhouse Rock" and "My Way" while an Elvis impersonator took on lead vocals. Female inmates gave Arpaio the rock star treatment and pelted the sheriff with the jail's signature pink underwear. After the performance, cake and ice cream cups a year past their expiration date were served to inmates, the Phoenix New Times reported.
|Speaking of Pink Underwear ...|
Arpaio's "world famous" pink underwear may be one of his greatest attention-getters to date. After the sheriff discovered standard issue undergarments were going missing from his jails, he decided to put a stop to it by dyeing everything pink. Even the most hardened criminals in Arpaio's jails now sport pink underwear and have pink cuffs slapped around their wrists. Arpaio even found a way to cash in on the public's interest by selling replica pink underwear and handcuffs online, with the proceeds benefiting local causes. He was even recently spotted at a Phoenix craft fair selling his line of pink prison accessories.
|Two Square Meals a Day|
Inmates are only fed twice per day -- a move Arpaio said saves labor costs. Those two meals often feature some peculiar entrees, including green bologna. Inmates can also forget about flavor: Arpaio doesn't provide salt and pepper. The sheriff said the move saves taxpayers $20,000 per year.
|Take A Lesson From Newt|
Sheriff Joe used his inmates' canteen fund in 1995 to purchase Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's 10-part lecture series, "Renewing American Civilization." Arpaio piped the lecture series, which cost $150, through his jails. "Should I bring Newt Gingrich back into my Jails?" Arpaio tweeted on Feb. 6. "I guess that's cruel and unusual punishment," Arpaio told the Arizona Republic. "Once he left office I pulled it, because once you leave nobody knows who you are anyway. Now that he's back in the news, maybe I'll play it again."
Inmates were also slated to mingle with everyday people on Phoenix's light rail system in a move Sheriff Joe said would cut costs. In 2009, Arpaio announced plans to transport extradited inmates from Phoenix Sky Harbor airport to his downtown Phoenix jails on the city's light rail system. Sheriff Joe said the move would have saved taxpayers $72,000 in parking fees incurred by officers at the airport during his four-year term. Representatives for Phoenix Sky Harbor claimed at the time that the Sheriff's Office had a free parking pass. Responding to public outrage over the program, airport officials gave Arpaio four more to meet his needs. "Con Rail" was disbanded after only two inmate transfers.
|All-Female Chain Gang|
The cost-conscious sheriff knows an opportunity when he sees one. Arpaio created the nation's first female chain gang, which his website said contributes "thousands of dollars" in free labor to Maricopa County. The ladies of the chain gang do chores such as cleaning the streets and painting over graffiti.
|Glen Campbell Performs for Captive Audience|
The Rhinestone Cowboy was busted for DUI in 2004 and spent 10 hot summer days in Sheriff Joe's "Tent City" jail. Toward the end of his stay, Campbell performed a 30-minute set, putting Arpaio and "Tent City" in national headlines. "We have some guys in here who cut hair, some who work in the kitchen and some who clean the floors. This inmate's work is singing, and it's not costing me anything," Arpaio said, according to the Arizona Republic.
|Just When You Thought the Birther Controversy Was Over|
Nearly one year after the White House released President Obama's birth certificate, Arpaio held a press conference stating he had probable cause to believe the certificate was a "computer-generated forgery". After receiving a petition from a local Tea Party group, Arpaio assigned a volunteer posse to investigate Obama's birth certificate, which was released by the White House on April 27, 2011. "My investigators believe that the long-form birth certificate was manufactured electronically and that it did not originate in a paper format as claimed by the White House," Arpaio said. As for the critics who say he's only pandering for votes? "You say I need this to get elected? Are you kidding me? I've been elected five times. I don't need this," he told the Associated Press.