The City of Phoenix and its management are required to provide certain core services to its citizens. Public safety, waste management, adequate streets and water services are some examples. These core services are why we pay taxes. Dictionary.com defines “core” in many ways, and one is “the central, innermost or most essential part of anything.” Based on this definition, the core services of the City are essential and need to be provided adequately regardless of cost.
For the past 12 years since the Great Recession, City leadership has treated pub- lic safety more like a peripheral entity rather than a core service. If the Police Department needs to replace worn, inefficient equipment, build new facilities or refurbish old ones or add manpower to provide a high level of service to our citizens, we typically are met with negative responses, including “we don’t have funding for that” or “to accomplish that, we would have to impose or raise taxes.” This is backward thinking. If you accept the premise that public safety is a core service, then the Police Department needs to be funded in such a way that it pro- vides our citizens the best customer service without making us out to be the bad guys, which has been the case every year during budget reviews. The public should consider it unacceptable to wait hours for an officer to respond to a traffic collision or to take a lower-priority report. Citizens have a right to have this core service be properly staffed and funded to provide quality service in a timely manner. As we have seen every year, because of the diminished manpower issue that we seem unable to overcome, the City continues to fall woefully short of where the level of service should be for a city of our population and geographical footprint.
If public safety truly is a core service, there should be no need to create a funding source to staff and supply equipment.
One only needs to look at the current situation in which we find ourselves with the COVID-19 pandemic. While police officers have been identified as “essential personnel” by not only the City but the federal government, our police officers are, for obvious reasons, not afforded the opportunity to telework like other City employees. In fact, as a general rule, the City chose to exclude us from a portion of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), despite other cities, like Glendale, including its first responders. As much as City leaders would like to, it is difficult to define what we do as police officers as anything but a core service.
Why do we continually struggle year after year to keep public safety funded? One glaring example of the City’s misplaced priorities is and has been the light rail system. The vast majority of Phoenicians never wanted the light rail; it was initially forced on them. Last year, there was pushback from a group of business owners who will be affected by the southern expansion of the right of way along Central Avenue. Proposition 106, an attempt to end all future light rail expansion, made it on the ballot but was defeated by voters. More people than not ride the rail for free due to there being no solid system in place to ensure those who ride, pay. 2017 estimates we had received from the City indicated the cost to construct 1 mile of light rail was $150 million, and at the time it cost an estimated $3 million per mile per year to maintain. Maybe this is why Glendale made it known in no uncertain terms that it did not want the Phoenix light rail running through its city. Unlike Phoenix, Glendale seems to be smart enough to understand that the cost to maintain each mile would far outweigh any financial gain.
If public safety truly is a core service, there should be no need to create a funding source to staff and supply equipment. Save those “funding sources” for extra items in the community. It’s not that libraries, pools and retirement centers aren’t important, but if they are important to the community, then ask them to approve a funding source above and beyond what is earmarked in the general fund to provide for them.
The City has proven time and again it is a master at pitting citizens against cops and firefighters by forcing citizens every contract cycle to choose between public safety and amenities important to them. This was clearly evident in our 2019–2021 contract negotiations where we were told that while employees needed to be made whole after nearly a decade of concessions and no raises, the City also felt that the citizens needed to be made whole as well. In other words, as we’ve heard time and time again, “Well, we can give you a raise but if we do, we’ll have to shut down or reduce access to swimming pools, parks, libraries and senior centers.” Tactics like this are unacceptable because they do nothing more than drive a wedge between public safety and the citizens we serve by making us out to be the bad guy. When you combine this with the anti-police sentiment we’ve seen pushed by a vocal minority percentage of the community and shown by our mayor and the majority of our City Council, it’s a tough obstacle to overcome.
City management should change how it sees and prioritizes #8486 core services. If it did, you would not hear another word about manpower shortages and see police equipment on the back of tow trucks with an officer out of service.
Fund the core first; the rest is extra.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, I can be reached at the PLEA Office or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.