Phoenix is the 5th largest and one of the fastest growing cities in the country. We have 518 square miles of unique neighborhoods and a diverse population of 1.6 million people. With that geography and expanding population, Phoenix has a unique set of challenges and opportunities that cannot be boxed into one-size-fits-all national model of public safety polices.
An effective public safety policy must be tailored for Phoenix. Simply modeling public safety policies off of larger cities with higher population density and significantly fewer square miles doesn’t make families, neighborhoods, and small businesses feel safe. Decreasing response times for calls of service, accurate dispatching, and accountability will make Phoenix a safer city.
Police Hiring Freeze
After the start of the 2008 recession, the Phoenix City Council put a freeze on all hiring, including public safety. It was needed at the time as the housing market and economy were crashing and the looming pension crisis was about to come home to roost.
While the economy and housing markets have rebounded in Phoenix, the city budget has not. Over the last 6 years the city council has borrowed significantly more money for special projects, handed out $1.6 Billion in tax breaks and incentives to a small group of big developers, and added $2.3 Billion in interest to the pension debt.
“The City blames a lot of this on Pension Debt, but instead of trying to pay it down, they have continually kicked that can down the road and recently chose to reammortize the debt by extending it out to a 30 year plan.” Statement from Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) to the Phoenix City Council on October 2nd, 2018.
As mayor, I will cut-up the city council’s credit cards, end the constant borrowing for special projects, stop the handouts for politically connected developers, and payoff our pension debt sooner avoiding the $2.3 billion interest.
Once the budget and debt are under control, future pension liabilities are limited, and community policing and accountability policies have been fully implemented then we can have conversations about staffing needs. You can read my Pension Crisis Plan here.
The Phoenix Police Department Patrol Division is organized into seven precincts.
Desert Horizon: covers 74.92 square miles with approximately 312,000 residents.
Black Mountain: covers 182 square miles with approximately 225,000 residents.
Cactus Park: covers an area of 30 square miles with approximately 188,000 residents.
Mountain View: covers an area of 46 square miles with approximately 215,000 residents.
Central City: covers 18 square miles with approximately 92,000 residents.
Maryvale Estrella Mountain Precinct: covers 75 square miles with approximately 305,000 residents.
South Mountain: covers 115.0 square miles with approximately 272,000 residents.
Patrol officers serve 3 major functions; rapid response to calls for service, crime deterrence through active presence and visibility, and community engagement. If you are patrolling a 182 square mile area how can you be an effective presence, fully engaged with local residents and business owners, or respond to an emergency on the other side of the precinct? You can’t.
We can expand the current patrols by increasing and utilizing volunteer and reserve officers for non-emergency calls, neighborhood and park patrols, and community engagement. This will free up sworn officers to respond to violent crimes in progress and be a more visible presence in neighborhoods.
Police Accountability and Community Trust
Studies show that the more positive engagement law enforcement has with the communities they serve and the more public accountability there is, the lower the crime rate will be. When people don’t fear or mistrust police officers they are more willing to assist in investigations and take ownership in crime prevention programs.
Citizen Review Board:
Giving trusted community leaders the opportunity to review incidents, voice concerns, and make recommendations to the Police Chief and the City Council will create public accountability and help to repair trust within the community. An independent Citizen Review Board should be empowered to review statements from involved officers, victims, witnesses, and offenders. As well as being able to review body camera footage, call witnesses, and consider personnel records and evaluations.
In 2015 the City of Philadelphia used a DOJ grant to hire an outside group, independent of any law enforcement group, to conduct a review of officer involved shootings and make recommendations on protocols and training needs. The implementation of recommended changes in the department’s culture and tactics was over the strong opposition of connected law enforcement groups. In just two short years, Philly cut its officer involved shooting rate in half.
The City of Phoenix needs that same level of review and the wherewithal to fully implement needed changes.
The City of Phoenix started a pilot program several years ago that outfitted less than 200 officers with body cameras. The City Council has failed to fully implement that program for all officers, even as the community demanded it.
Body cameras not only provide evidence of misconduct or abuse, but can also provide support to clear an officer of perceived wrong doing. This technology can also be a keystone for officer training. As officers will be able to see real world interactions and the ramifications of particular responses.
Chief Williams and other law enforcement groups halted the expansion believing that it’s better to wait until the technology is perfect. But a less than perfect camera today is better than no camera at all.
Whether it’s responding to domestic violence calls, dealing with mental health crisis, taking sexual assault victim statements, dispatch prioritizing calls for service, or general interactions with the public we can always use more training and guidance.
We need to implement an annual training and certification program for sworn officers and civilian public safety employees. These programs also need to go through regular review and updating.