While the Phoenix City Council continues to demand accountability from the Phoenix Police Department and pushes for civilian oversight, the consequences of their poor decisions regarding proper staffing of the Department continue to affect crime victims throughout the city. Last month, after we called them out on the issues going on within the Crimes Against Children Unit, their knee jerk response, as has been typical over the past decade of staffing shortages due to the six-year hiring freeze; have the Department re-assign 50% of our Community Action Officers to Patrol Squads so personnel on transfer lists for investigations can be moved into critical details. Instead of finding solutions to fund and expedite hiring of police officers, they are playing the same shell game of shuffling personnel around that has been played since 2008 when we stopped hiring.
Once again, the calendar has flipped to October and we’re already halfway through the month. The State Fair arrived along with pumpkin spiced everything, and the City of Phoenix began its annual Paint Phoenix Purple in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness. This awareness, each October, is a time to reach out to citizens and explain how prevalent domestic violence truly is, how many people it affects, and an opportunity to assist victims in need with understanding that there are resources available to them. However, October is no different than any other month for the detectives working within the Domestic Violence Unit, as they are overburdened with cases and not enough manpower to stay on top of the incoming daily caseload.
There is no doubt that all areas within the City of Phoenix Police Department are affected by a lack of personnel. Patrol, the backbone of police work, works tirelessly to chase the radio and get new officers who have recently graduated from the Academy up to speed. Other investigative details are equally overworked. Some details, such as the recently highlighted Child Crimes Unit, have seen their detective numbers stay the same as they attempt to deal with their caseload that can sometimes approach 40 cases per detective. However, most Domestic Violence detectives could only wish to look at their open cases and see just 40 cases as the number of assigned detectives in this unit has dwindled. Almost every detective within Domestic Violence is at a minimum of 40 cases, with many having well over 100 open cases. Over the course of a month, each detective is assigned 100 more cases they must triage and attempt to use a crystal ball to determine which victims are most at risk. These cases may not all be as time consuming as 18-24 hours per case like Child Crimes, but make no mistake that all cases do require several sections including a review of all past history between the parties along with notifying the Department of Child Safety if a child is a witness to the crime. Many cases often do take multiple hours to complete from start to finish and spending several days on a single case is not unusual in the least. Additionally, every case that comes to Domestic Violence unit requires some form of follow up. Unlike cases in other investigative details, there are no unknown suspects to halt the investigation or simple “pend for DNA” that may take several years to return. Domestic Violence is also without the benefit of having civilian staff assigned to them to assist with their investigations. The burden to complete the entirety of each and every investigation lies solely with the assigned detective.
To understand the staffing shortage present within the Domestic Violence unit, look no further than an audit completed by the City of Phoenix in 2014. This audit was conducted by several city auditors and submitted through the chain of command up to and including the City Manager. Over a year, approximately 15,500 cases were assigned to the Domestic Violence unit, which consisted at the time of 24 detectives. The audit determined that 26 detectives were needed to handle these cases without use of overtime directed towards case management. This equates to a detective receiving approximately 600 cases a year. If you were to ask a domestic violence detective about this figure, almost all would agree that this is a reasonable number. This is roughly 50 cases a month for a detective to receive, triage, complete interviews, make arrests, so on and so forth.
Now let us examine the reality facing the Domestic Violence Unit. Numbers are a funny thing, and the number of detectives “on paper” can differ from the number of detectives that are currently being assigned cases for a number of reasons. Currently, “on paper”, the Domestic Violence Unit has 18 detectives who are assigned reports to be worked. The Unit has been told three (3) new detectives are on their way from Patrol. These three new bodies are not increasing Unit staffing, but are filling vacated spots, which were never filled. This also does not account for the three detectives who left the Unit this month for various reasons. Yet this year, the number of domestic violence cases is on par for 23,000 incidents. Instead of looking at 600 cases a year, detectives are now faced with roughly 1,150. This is nearly double what the City audit recommended. To get to the City audit’s preferred level of 600 cases per year, the Domestic Violence Unit would need a total of 38 dedicated case carrying detectives. This is 18 more detectives than what the Unit currently has. This is roughly every CAO position recently made available, all coming to work Domestic Violence cases. It doesn’t take a trained investigator to detect the likelihood of one unit suddenly receiving that many detectives after years of hemorrhaging and losing detectives to less stressful investigator positions, promotions, temporary assignments and other locations. Time and time again, for every 3 bodies that leave Domestic Violence, ultimately, only 2 are replaced, which is explains why the Domestic Violence Unit is getting 3 new detectives, but will still be down 4 fewer detectives overall than when the audit took place in 2014.
Sadly, there is no clear answer as to where these 20 extra detectives are going to come from. That leaves the current group of detectives to push on and work with what they can. These are the same detectives who come in every Monday to see 20 new cases in their workflow needing to be reviewed, triaged, and worked. The same detectives who are consistently being asked to do more with less. The same detectives who inwardly cringe each time the news reports a domestic violence homicide and they wonder, “Was it their area? Could they have done more for the victim? Is that victim’s report sitting somewhere within their triaged pile? And will they get reprimanded for not magically seeing that this victim was in danger based on the words written on one of a dozen new reports they received that day?”
As there have been recent changes to the standby schedule, it is too early to see how this will change things for the Domestic Violence unit. What is known is that on any given night, 3 cases that meet callout criteria can and will happen. Even with 2 detectives, these cases can put the detectives behind by a week as they work on all that is needed to finish the case. Yet the new reports will continue to come in to that detective, creating a bigger backlog for them, and causing an even larger gap in time with regards to when the detective can work their other cases. Even with the assistance of units such as Night Detectives, there is no expectation those detectives will carry the case, which means all follow up investigation and further requests will be the responsibility of the originating Domestic Violence detective
The Domestic Violence Unit is in the Family Advocacy Center for a reason. The outreach to victims is one of the most important aspects of the Unit. The victim advocates are across the hallway to assist in providing unparalleled support to these victims, who have nowhere else to turn to get themselves away from a dangerous relationship. The staffing of the Unit coupled with the constant and massive stream of incoming reports creates a grave disservice to the victims. As the City of Phoenix rolls out the purple carpet for Domestic Violence Awareness month, detectives wonder if it is clear to the powers that be just how much assistance the Domestic Violence Unit needs. These detectives continue to do everything they can to provide the best service possible to the victims of domestic violence who need help the most, but at some point during a long enough timeline, due to limited resources, their best will not be enough.
Staffing in all parts of the department has been hurting for some time, and despite the best attempts to resolve that, there is still more hiring to do. Until that time of being fully staffed, the Domestic Violence Unit currently looks to remain drastically understaffed. This can create a greater focus on managing cases and less towards victim assistance. It is only with true victim assistance that we can break the victims out of the dangerous domestic violence cycle these victims often find themselves in. If the cycle is able to be broken, this is one less return call for Patrol, one less new report for the detectives, and one less victim likely to become re-victimized. Helping victims not become a victim again and being able to face down their abuser and prosecute in court is a large goal for the Family Advocacy Center and Domestic Violence detectives who choose to work this detail. Not only is it their goal, but it is the reason there is a month dedicated to Domestic Violence Awareness. Helping these victims is what the city’s slogan to Paint Phoenix Purple is all about. Let’s turn that slogan into a reality.