Phoenix Law Enforcement Association

The Chief and PLEA: Point / Counterpoint

Phoenix Police Chief, Jeri Williams was featured in an interview on local valley radio station KTAR on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 and was interviewed about police community issues. The interview runs just shy of seven minutes.  

CLICK HERE to listen to the actual interview.

In this interview the Chief addressed several topics.  What follows are extracts from the interview.  The comments made by the Chief are in bold print followed by PLEA’s responses and observations.

When asked about staffing issues the Chief’s response was:

“The City Council, any time we go to ask for bodies, positions, equipment, you name it, we get that. They’ve been extremely supportive.”

This is an amazing statement.   We get whatever we ask for?  When did this happen? Perhaps the Chief could explain exactly what she’s asked for, so far.   At one time our traffic bureau had 150 motor officers and we’re now down to about 40.  Detective details are grossly understaffed, swamped with caseload and forced to utilize a multi-million-dollar computer system that hinders and slows progress rather than facilitating and expediting progress as it should. 

It gets better, the Chief then went on to say,

“We have hundreds more officers on the streets now than we had several years ago and we’re going to keep hiring.” 

Let’s sift through all the smoke and mirrors on this statement. Is it entirely false? No.  It’s one of those quick soundbite statements that sounds good, has a few grains of truth sprinkled in, but is also extremely deceptive.  Some might refer to it as political doublespeak.  When a major city quits hiring for over 6 years and we reach a manpower deficit of over 700, any amount of hiring is going to look good.  If you’ve hired a couple of hundred officers in the last year or two you can truthfully say we have hundreds more officers on the streets now than we had several years ago.

Here’s some hard questions that should have been asked but weren’t:

What is the bottom line number we are trying to get to and will it be enough?

Based, on the number hired combined with how many have left the department, what is the true net gain in manpower, over the last 12 months?

If it’s not enough, how many do you need to properly staff a city the size of Phoenix?

What is the population difference in Phoenix between 2008 and 2018?

Well, here’s what we do know.  The city manager thinks 3,125 officers are enough because “it’s what we can afford” even though, 3,125 is 263 fewer than we had in 2008 when we were staffed at about 3,388 officers. 

We know based on square mileage of the city (530) and population (1.6M) that 2.5 officers per 1000 citizens is a reasonable number. Many major cities staff much higher. 

On the relationship between the Chief the City Manager’s office and the Officers:

“It’s not about making both happy, its really about providing the best service possible with the resources that we have, keeping the officers on the street safe and our community safe too.  So, to me, it’s not a delicate balancing act, it’s just me being the Police Chief doing my job.”

Another great feel good sound bite, but how do we keep officers safe without adequate manpower and staffing?

Does “doing your job” mean doing it how you see fit or doing what the city manager says? 

How are officers supposed to feel safe with a Chief that won’t have their back when citizens make false and malicious complaints?

What about officers that must use force and now worry about whether the boss will back them or worse yet expect that they adhere to arbitrary or made up rules?

On Immigration enforcement and changes to PPD immigration policy:

“What we were making sure we did, first and foremost, we take an oath to obey the law, so we’re in compliance with state law, but at the same time we want our victims and witnesses and kids in schools to feel comfortable talking to police and we don’t want to drive people underground and keep them from reporting crimes.  So, we made some adjustments to our operations orders in order for victims and witnesses to be assured that when we contact them when crimes happen that we are not going to ask them about immigration status.

If you’re a kid at school and you have an SRO we don’t want the immigration piece to be that block that forms between you and the officer, so our officers don’t ask any immigration related questions on campus, but, at the same time, if a crime happens on campus they take that individual off campus and follow the rules and regulations of state law.”

The above statements have so many conflicts it is hard to know where to begin.  We do take an oath to obey the state law and which clearly seems at odds with our departmental immigration enforcement policy. 

There are at least 7 mandates in current State immigration law (ARS 11-1051):

  1. No official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may limit or restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.
  2. For any lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of this state or a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person, except if the determination may hinder or obstruct an investigation.
  3. Any person who is arrested shall have the person’s immigration status determined before the person is released. The person’s immigration status shall be verified with the federal government pursuant to 8 United States Code section 1373(c).
  4. A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution.
  5. If an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States is convicted of a violation of state or local law, on discharge from imprisonment or on the assessment of any monetary obligation that is imposed, the United States immigration and customs enforcement or the United States customs and border protection shall be immediately notified.
  6. A law enforcement agency shall obtain judicial authorization before securely transporting an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States to a point of transfer that is outside of this state.
  7. Except as provided in federal law, officials or agencies of this state and counties, cities, towns and other political subdivisions of this state may not be prohibited or in any way be restricted from sending, receiving or maintaining information relating to the immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual or exchanging that information with any other federal, state or local governmental entity for the following official purposes.

PPD policy states “a VCB desk sergeant must first (emphasis theirs) be contacted” if officers need to contact ICE – this appears to violate bullet points 1 and 7.

PPD policy states “Officers may not make immigration status inquiries during initial consensual contacts with members of the public.” – this appears to violate bullet points 1 and 7.

PPD policy states “SROs or any other officers must not ask immigration questions or contact ICE for any purposes while on school grounds.” – this appears to violate bullet points 1, 2 and 7.

PPD policy states “When off school grounds, if officers need to contact ICE to verify any person’s immigration status, a VCB desk sergeant must first be contacted” – this appears to violate bullet points 1, 2 and 7.

PPD policy states “Officers must not detain a person solely for determining immigration status longer than completion of the original stop/detention” – this appears to violate bullet points 1, 2 and 7.

PPD policy states “Officers must not hold a person for longer than the purpose of the original stop to verity immigration status.” – this appears to violate bullet points 1, 2 and 7.

The Chief says we won’t ask about immigration status to make crime victims and witnesses feel comfortable.  What she doesn’t seem to realize is that there is a very important reason to ask about immigration status.  If it is determined a crime victim or witness is here illegally, detectives can assist in the process of helping to obtain a U-Visa that will allow them to stay in the country legally until the case is adjudicated, without fear of deportation.  Imagine a scenario where we fail to ask about immigration status in a critical case and either a victim or witness is deported weeks or months later by another agency ruining the chance for a successful prosecution. 

How ludicrous is it to tell an officer he or she can’t enforce the law when standing on one side of the street, but can as soon as they cross the street (SRO’s on or off school grounds)?  This clearly restricts an officer’s ability to enforce the law in violation of state law.

Why is it that officers don’t have to call the VCB desk Sergeant when interacting with any other federal partner unless its ICE?  This is a restriction under state law.

When questioned about traffic stops on the street where the officer would have reason to believe someone may not be here legally, the Chief stated:

“So, when it comes to crimes there are mandatory steps we have to take so if and when that happens my officers are going to follow and comply with state law and do what we’re supposed to do.  Just remember at the same time I’m going to loop back to what I said before when it comes to victims and witnesses and kids on school campuses, we just don’t want to create that barrier.  Our officers are going to follow the law, they are going to do what’s necessary but at the same time keeping people safe.”

How can officers follow and comply with state law when policy clearly conflicts with state law?  See points previously listed. 

The conflicts previously outlined are what happens when you let activist groups like Black Lives Matter, Puente and the ACLU rewrite police policies.

On coming up with new and innovative ways to police:

“At the same time, out in the community, trying to come up with new and great and innovative ways for the men and women to run crime suppression projects.  We’ve got to focus on crime suppression, that’s why you have us.  So, this year we’ve kicked off a couple of new crime suppression efforts where the officers and employees that I have working, its almost like they’ve forgotten geographical boundaries.  We have crime and hotspots happening in different areas of the city, its all hands in that effort to really make an impact on crime.  So, I’m excited about it.  I think the men and women out there are excited about it, because they really get to do police work again.   And that’s really super exciting.”

If crime suppression has gone by the wayside, it’s due to lack of manpower.  Patrol officers on the street “forgot geographical boundaries” years ago.  They had to in order to survive.  The dire straits of minimum staffing forced patrol cops to forego beat accountability, work at large in precincts and, often are sliced out to augment manpower in adjacent precincts.  Regarding the statement, “the men and women out there are excited because they really get to do police work again.”  What is this supposed to mean?  Was a poll taken?  Our men and women have been busting their humps doing police work for many years after taking repeated pay and benefit cuts and continuously being required to do more with less.  If we haven’t been doing police work, what have we been doing?        

On the most prevalent crime in Phoenix:

“Guns, guns and more guns.  We’re really going after those individuals who seek and use guns in ways that are criminal. Across the nation if you ask any major city Chief’s that’s our biggest issue. 

Yet another feel good soundbite.  So, when the Chief says: “We’re really going after those individuals who seek and use guns in ways that are criminal.” What were we doing before, giving them a free pass?  We have always gone after those who have used firearms for illicit means.