It has been over two years since the Department of Justice (DOJ) began its “pattern and practice” investigation into the Phoenix Police Department. Chief Sullivan provided an update a couple months ago and said that it has been a collaborative effort and that the seven meetings they have had with DOJ officials have been productive. He said “they,” the Department, have provided over 80,000 documents and more than 20,000 body-worn camera videos. He stated that “transparency is key to maintaining trust with the community” and that he was “looking forward to any next steps with the DOJ and welcomes future collaboration in this process.”
According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of collaboration is “to work jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor.” In my many discussions with those involved with providing information to the DOJ investigators, collaboration is not what has been occurring. The Phoenix Police Department has handed over everything the DOJ has requested. They have gone so far as to provide restricted criminal justice information to the DOJ. Were those who received and worked with the restricted data CJIS compliant? As officers, we are required to successfully pass a terminal operator certification test every two years in order to access the same information. It seems like that kind of disclosure to unauthorized individuals could jeopardize our access to NCIC and ACIC.
Unfortunately, that is not their game. They like the “Gotcha, and now we are going to publicly embarrass you” game. If you look at the other cities that have been hit with consent decrees, you find a common theme. They will meet with the mayor, police chief and possibly a city manager and pressure them into signing an agreement in principle.
I have heard they like to #7100 show up at 4:45 on a Friday afternoon, letting them know that there is a press conference set for Monday morning and that it would be in their best interest to sign the agreement in principle so they can see the findings report to prepare for the Monday press conference.
By signing the agreement in principle, the signer agrees to engage in negotiations for a consent decree. The interesting thing about these “agreements in principle” is that they want signatures on them before they release the “findings report” to the city in question. It’s kind of like being told you have committed a crime, but before they tell you what crime or what the sentence is going to be, you must plead guilty. Talk about a bad decision.
The DOJ has a 30-year record of consent decrees. Not one can be touted as a success. Sure, some cities are forced to obtain equipment for their police departments, but, as a whole, they are unsuccessful. Consent decrees are successful in spiking violent crime and police department budgets and enriching the individuals chosen to serve as oversight monitors. For example, Albuquerque has realized an 80.27% rise in violent crime, Baltimore 7.86%, New Orleans 97.45%, Seattle 52.59% and Chicago 10.24%. Their budgets have had to increase anywhere from 23.67% (Chicago) to 82.72% (New Orleans). The others are in between.
Another rarely spoken about result of consent decrees is reduced police department staffing. Staffing numbers have decreased in every city listed above, all of which are currently subject to a consent decree. Albuquerque is down 10.51%, Baltimore 14.12%, New Orleans 35.81%, Seattle 15.50% and Chicago 2.04%. Considering there is a nationwide staffing crisis, losing more on top of the hundreds of vacancies doesn’t lend to quality customer service to the communities.
Here in Phoenix, we are approximately 600 short of the max staffing of 3,125. In a recent survey, PLEA asked members how likely they would be to retire or resign if a consent decree was implemented in Phoenix. 12.57% responded that they would definitely retire or resign, while another 30.26% said they would strongly consider retiring or resigning. 42.87% is a concerning number!
In the same survey, we asked what the members felt would happen to crime if a consent decree was implemented. 93.73% said crime would rise either somewhat or substantially. That is in line with what we have seen across the country.
OV work also drops off or becomes nonexistent when consent decrees are in place. Officers are buried under paperwork for everyone they contact, not to mention if they must use force to affect an arrest, there will be several layers of investigation. It is easier for officers to sit and wait to respond to calls for service and limit their exposure to becoming potentially the next viral headline. Officers’ families rely on the benefits that come with being City of Phoenix employees. Therefore, career preservation becomes top priority.
Police officers are not afraid of oversight. Our use-of-force boards and discipline review boards have just as many community members on the board as sworn members. Consent decrees have nothing to do with oversight, and they never have. Consent decrees are about police control, and in reality, it is the federal government, a federal court and a for-profit monitor who are always a DOJ insider, stealing control of local police departments away from the communities they serve and rendering them wholly ineffective. In addition, the monitors will be enriched to the tune of tens of millions of dollars per year and only required to provide four reports per year. Consent decrees are nothing more than a scam.
Ask yourself: What incentive does a for-profit monitor have to find an agency in compliance when that means their gravy train ends? They are the only ones who can determine whether full compliance is obtained. Talk about stacking the deck!
The City of Phoenix finds itself in a unique position compared to other cities. Our council/manager form of government does not allow the mayor to sign an agreement in principle like other jurisdictions. It takes a majority vote of the council to enter into any agreement or to give consent to DOJ oversight. Interestingly, when Alamance County, North Carolina, refused to consent and the DOJ filed suit, all the exhibits the DOJ submitted were thrown out by the court as unreliable.
The bottom line is this: If the Phoenix City Council decides to consent to a decree of federal oversight, this city will become another statistic in a long list of failed federal government experiments. It is time for this to end for everyone, and I hope and pray that this mayor and council have the courage and determination to stand up to this sham.