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Witnessing 'The Purge' of Phoenix?
Almost One-Third Of Police Are Eligible For Retirement
I have written and spoken extensively at how federal intervention of local law enforcement by consent decrees have destroyed both the law enforcement agency and the community they serve. This is not a simple opinion but grounded in three decades of data and observation at the cities that agreed to federal intervention. In a previous article, I discussed the latest DOJ inquiry of the Phoenix Police Department and the absolute requirement that the city owes it’s citizens and those behind the badge to ensure that the forthcoming investigative results actually warrant destroying the city.
The destruction comes in many forms including:
Millions of tax payer dollars going to consent decree monitors, staff, technology and a host of other items for decades to come.
A rise in crime that has been well established through the data provided by the FBI from those consent decree cities and research.
A significant loss of police employee morale resulting in de-policing and staffing issues.
The combination of rising crime along with employee morale and increased resignations are not a prediction for cities like Phoenix staring down a potential consent decree but it will happen.
All you have to do to know this is to look at the past.
But Phoenix is in a particular bad situation as they navigate the subsequent findings of the DOJ and it is this reason why we should all be looking their way.
While the destruction of cities due to consent decrees are well documented over the last 30 years, the current state of law enforcement in the aftermath of the “defund and defame” movement places a new baseline at the beginning of that destruction. Anyone with an operating brain can acknowledge that previous consent decree cities such as New Orleans, Portland and Seattle are far worse off today than they were when the decrees started but the crime and mass exodus started from a point that we no longer see today.
Violent crime in Phoenix reached a 23 year high in 2022. Today, they have a staffing shortfall of close to 600 sworn officers and almost one-third of their entire workforce are eligible to retire.
The Consent Decree Baseline
While the past destruction of consent decrees on communities has been dramatic and tragic, no other city began their decree disintegration in a way that Phoenix would. Not only would they be starting at a high point in crime, they are operating with the potential implementation of a consent decree with 18% less staffing than budgeted and a significant portion of the agency eligible to retire immediately.
The community has likely already noticed the staffing shortage as reduction in services and investigators are the primary short-term “fix” for police leaders. The criminals have obviously noticed because they are as successful as ever.
But what would happen if those eligible to retire did just that? What would happen if just 5% of those not eligible to retire simply left and went to another agency?
The community would have a police department operating at half of its capacity with a 50% staffing shortage.
This is why I believe that the country and our leaders should be paying attention to Phoenix. Based on the history of federal involvement with law enforcement and the current state of the Phoenix Police Department, a consent decree imposed on the Phoenix Police Department could well be the first major city in America to see a police force reduced to levels that would render them unable to actually police.
CONSENT DECREE: SILENCE IS VIOLENCE
There is a tipping point when it comes to police staffing. At their current 18% reduction, Phoenix PD has no doubt become leaner, more efficient and cut out any excess, in an effort to respond to 911 calls. Of course investigations and response times suffer and proactivity is limited but many agencies across the country are making it work (while paying plenty of overtime) as they hopefully figure out how to recruit in this new era of policing.
When that staffing issue increases, the agency will no longer be able to move the chess pieces effectively. At a 25% reduction, it would be crazy and 50% would be a purge that no other city in America has yet to see.
It Could Happen
Law enforcement doesn't exactly have a good track record of looking into the future and attempting to get ahead of pending issues but for the sake of those that reside in Phoenix, I’m hopeful that someone with a high level of positional authority in Phoenix is doing just that.
The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association does not have that authority but they deserve a ton of credit by taking the initiative on the issues plaguing the agency at this time in history.
A recent employee survey by the association showed that if a consent decree was implemented, 66% of the employees would consider retirement or resignation with 13% saying that they would absolutely leave immediately. In fact, just 16% said that a consent decree would not affect their decision on retirement or resignation.
It’s natural to read that “sky is falling” survey result and believe that it’s not possible but this is not law enforcement from generations past where cops just stayed at an agency. Today, those in the profession have more options than ever and as soon as a consent decree is dropped in Phoenix, those options will be blasted all over the city (and in their social media feed) that includes lateral signing bonuses with agencies operating with sound leadership and without federal oversight.
In fact, a Phoenix police officer would have little to lose in leaving (as they indicated) as their pension is transferable to other Arizona agencies.
What Does This Mean?
While some may paint the intent of Phoenix police officers saying they would leave under a consent decree as a refusal to “reform,” the opposite is actually true. DOJ Consent Decrees do not make anything better.
Budget, Bureaucracy, and Crime Rises while Morale and Staffing Decreases.
This has been proven for 30 years.
New Orleans entered into a consent decree in 2010. Since then, violent crime has risen 100% while their budget ballooned 83% and staffing was reduced by 36%.
Seattle entered into a consent decree in 2011. Since then, violent crime has risen 53% while their budget ballooned 43% and staffing was reduced by 16%.
Albuquerque entered into a consent decree in 2012. Since then, violent crime has risen 80% while their budget ballooned 38% and staffing was reduced by 11%.
The good men and women at the Phoenix Police Department are not running away from fixing their department…They are running away from the coming destruction of the agency and community they love. They know that, just like other cities, an imposed consent decree leaves them helpless and hopeless to serve.
Destruction to Greatness
As I previously discussed, a consent decree does not have to be imposed in Phoenix. The politicians have other alternatives and they have an opportunity to steer away from destruction to greatness.
The Phoenix Police Department is a good agency with really good personnel. Like any organization, they are not perfect but they are continually striving to serve and do better. Phoenix is a beautiful city with a lot to offer prospective law enforcement officers and frankly, it’s the last city the DOJ should be investigating.
Many police recruits are staying away from large cities. From politics to riots, those going into the profession are simply choosing suburban agencies and it’s hard to blame them. But those same recruits also realize that they are giving up the benefits of a larger department.
The Phoenix Police Department has a unique opportunity to shine a light on what they can offer prospective law enforcement professionals.
They can offer a great city; a professional law enforcement agency; and support to their employees when they are falsely accused of patterns and practices from a consent decree process that has created so much damage and destruction in cities across America.
Dr. Travis Yates retired as a commander with a large municipal police department after 30 years of service. He is the author of “The Courageous Police Leader: A Survival Guide for Combating Cowards, Chaos & Lies.” His risk management and leadership seminars have been taught to thousands of professionals across the world. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy with a Doctorate Degree in Strategic Leadership and the CEO of the Courageous Police Leadership Alliance.