It’s no secret the Phoenix Police Department continues to suffer from a manpower crisis and has been since City leaders decided the best way to save money after the recession hit over a decade ago was to stop hiring police officers. While hiring began again in 2015, City Manager Ed Zuercher’s goal of having 3,125 sworn officers by July 1, 2018, 260 fewer than we had in 2008, wasn’t met and we have yet to hit that goal. Officers continue to leave the Department due to mandatory retirements and others, frustrated with the increased workload they have taken because we have continued to do more with less, are on the “twenty and out” plan.
Despite the new program of all Phoenix police recruit classes at the Phoenix Regional Police Academy with 50 recruits per class, we are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill the classes and in addition to the normal attrition rate associated with the Academy, we hear of Officers in Training, OITs, quitting shortly after entering the Field Training Officer program because it’s not what they signed up for. Patrol is the backbone of the Department, which responds to calls for service which can’t be handled over the phone by Callback. However, the manpower issue has filtered through the veins of the Department into our investigative details, who like Patrol, continue to do more with less since personnel who promote, retire, or transfer back to Patrol are not being replaced, ironically, because Patrol is still insufficiently staffed to allow transfers into investigative details after testing processes have been completed.
The fifth largest city in the United States continues to grow as new housing and commercial developments sprout up in what used to be open desert and farmland areas and infill projects close to the heart of Downtown have rejuvenated neighborhoods that as recently as five years ago consisted of vacant lots, and run down or vacant buildings. Yet, the Phoenix Police Department struggles to provide quality police service to the residents who have lived here for years or have recently moved here.
No group is more vulnerable than the thousands of children residing in the city who fall victim to the horrors of child crimes, which are some of the most despicable crimes imaginable. They include child neglect, child abuse, sexual conduct with a minor, and child molestation. The detectives who investigate these crimes will tell you they are some of the most difficult cases to work due to the graphic nature of the acts themselves and the physical and psychological injuries that result from them. These cases require a very specialized methodology to investigate and the detectives who handle these cases must go through specific training to gain the confidence of the victims so they will disclose what occurred to them.
The Phoenix Police Department’s Crimes Against Children Unit, CACU, has been dealing with manpower issues for over fourteen years! PLEA has a series of memos authored by a now-retired sergeant dating from 2005 through 2012 imploring the chain of command that caseloads, particularly those involving Spanish speaking victims, were unmanageable and the unit needed more personnel to effectively investigate these crimes. PLEA also has documents detailing a presentation made to the then-Public Safety, Veterans, Transparency, and Ethics Subcommittee on March 27, 2012 regarding an internal audit which began in June 2011. Ironically, at that time, the Department and the City chose to hang out a now-retired detective to dry, despite the memos and documentation that this detective and the unit itself were overwhelmed by cases involving Spanish-speaking victims. The memos repeatedly asked for additional personnel as well as funding to cover standby and callouts resulting from Patrol’s response to child crime related calls for service. In essence, the City and Department put a band-aid on a sucking chest wound and this practice has continued as evidenced by what we at PLEA hear from our members who show up to our monthly meetings, email, call, and text us about detective caseloads.
We realize too, that Chief Williams is caught in the middle of all this because of the current makeup and climate of the City Council and City Manager’s Office who she reports to. One would think that in today’s day and age that our elected officials would focus on the real issue of safety in the community instead of expanding Light Rail, planting more trees, stopping people from feeding pigeons, and installing the new “Giving Meters” in Downtown Phoenix.
In an age where politicians’ new buzzword is “transparency, ” while all our investigative details are burdened by increased caseloads related to manpower, our most vulnerable victims, children continue to suffer as they did fourteen years ago due to an inability of these politicians to get their priorities straight. How bad is it in the Crimes Against Children Unit, which handles an average of 6,000-7,000, yes, that’s no typo, six-thousand to seven-thousand cases per year? Read on…
The unit is the definition of a Phoenix bird rising again. It was taken all the way down to nothing and reborn. It went from three squads to six. Twenty-eight detectives to a high of forty-two. Caseloads? Twenty and under open cases was the norm.
Now? Caseloads are forty-plus for most detectives. We are again at twenty-eight detectives taking new cases. We went back in time as a unit to 2011. Doing more with less? This unit is the definition of that motto. Doing more with less should just be added to Operations Orders at this point.
A CACU case has a closing supplement that can have seven to ten sections. They are summary of original, involved parties, criminal history, Department of Child Safety, [DCS] history, interviews, polygraph, one-part consent call, related cases, and finally, why it’s closed.
The closing is a summary of all your work. A basic case is eighteen to twenty-four hours of work. A long term case? Easily six to eight months. A few cases a year can be closed with a single supplement. I can count those on one hand. Rarely can a single phone call close a case.
Getting eight cases a week that each need eighteen to twenty-four hours to close? Plus standby? How is anyone supposed to keep up with that. This is a repeat and it was seen coming two years ago. It all started by not replacing two detectives, then it was forty detectives and it kept sinking. No one cared. It’s more important to have a sergeant than it is to have the appropriate manpower for CACU. That sounds great!
Standby is a disaster. Four years ago, you would have one or two days a month. Now? It’s three to four, plus helping other squads which are short-handed. People will stop answering the phone. I have had as many as five days of standby in a single month. This is what can burn someone out and cause mental health issues.
The light at the end of the tunnel is not the end of the tunnel; it’s a freight train. In eight years we went from twenty-eight detectives taking cases to…twenty-eight detectives taking cases. This is the definition of failure. As far as anyone who feels this is OK? They should be held responsible when mistakes are made and things are missed on investigations. Everyone knows this is an issue. But if we put our heads in the sand, It will just go away right?
Does limiting overtime help? No. Punish someone who hits forty cases by taking away overtime? That is a horrible idea. So now that person is limited on overtime, but has forty open cases?
Solutions? Manpower is obvious. Bring up the list. Make another and bring it up. Then another and so on.
Having School Resource Officers, SROs take some cases? No. This has been brought up in the past and the SRO’s did not like it. It won’t work and the product of work will not be what CACU produces.,
We can start by stopping investigations into non-criminal matters. A child refusing to do something is not a crime and should not be investigated. Children throwing pancakes at each other is not a crime. Someone yelling at a child is not a crime. Siblings fighting? That’s a domestic violence issue.
If children are our most important victims why don’t we give those cases the manpower they deserve so that detectives aren’t overwhelmed to 4 cases a day. Imagine having a suspect interview planned for a big case, then coming in to four new cases to start your day. Your mind will be on those new cases. Let that sink in.
We are approaching critical mass. When this goes nuclear I will make sure to remind everyone I told you so.