PHOENIX - In Arizona, seeing Joe Arpaio on TV is nothing new. But the self-described "America's toughest sheriff" now has a national platform to pursue lawbreakers.
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which oversees the state's most populous county, has a starring role in
Smile . . . You're Under Arrest!
, a reality show debuting today (at 7 p.m. and other times) on Fox Reality Channel.
A cross between
, the program sets up elaborate sting operations to snare people wanted on outstanding warrants. Actors and undercover deputies play along in faux scenarios where scofflaws are enticed to have a good time; the drama comes when cast members reveal the prank and waiting deputies slap on handcuffs.
Arpaio, who has been accused of being publicity-hungry, says the show is not about fame-seeking, adding that producers approached him.
"This is just another outside-the-box effort to join forces with the private industry/Hollywood to use certain techniques," Arpaio said. "It's entertainment. But on the other hand, we're able to accomplish a mission and also arrest people out on warrants."
The sheriff is known for overseeing the Tent City Jail, where inmates are housed under surplus military tents. In Maricopa County jails, inmates don old-fashioned prison stripes and work on chain gangs.
Arpaio has fielded harsher criticism; the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has paid millions in settlements involving dead or injured inmates.
"The reality is the man has lost complete touch with reality," said Michael Manning, a Phoenix attorney who has won settlements for clients against the sheriff's office.