Why a federal investigation of Phoenix police only makes things worse

(AZ Central): Two years ago, the Department of Justice launched a witch hunt against the Phoenix Police Department over claims that there are patterns and practices of misconduct and racial bias.

Rather than serve the role of a neutral legal arbiter, DOJ succumbed to the political pressure and hysteria of anti-police activists.

Now, Phoenix police officers are anxiously awaiting the results of this investigation that will impact the department for many years or even decades to come. But the reality is, DOJ investigations of police departments across the nation have led to worse outcomes.

Crime, police budgets will increase

The Department of Justice has a long history of these cookie-cutter investigations across the nation that result in copy-and-paste consent decrees and overpaid legal monitors.

A simple review of the cities where DOJ has conducted pattern and practice investigations shows there is absolutely no evidence that the changes DOJ mandates in its consent decrees have helped these cities and agencies. The result of these decrees is actually a rapid increase in violent crime and police department budgets to manage the growth in crime.

Our review indicates that Albuquerque, Baltimore, New Orleans, Seattle and Chicago have seen violent crime increase ranging from 7.9% in Baltimore to 97% in New Orleans. In addition, these cities have had to increase their police department budgets, from about 24% in Chicago to nearly 83% in New Orleans.

It’s clear that the federal consent decrees are largely to blame for these budget increases. In Chicago, federal monitors have billed the city more than $14 million alone, while the total cost associated with compliance has surpassed $55 million in New Orleans.

Similarly populated cities that do not have consent decrees, such as Houston and Philadelphia, are seeing different trends, with Philadelphia actually experiencing a reduction in violent crime over the same timeframe.

Court-chosen monitors get paid millions

In addition to the increases to department budgets, whoever is selected to be the monitor is paid millions of dollars for a few reports a year. This creates a huge, long-term windfall for these monitors, all funded by taxpayers.

In Arizona, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has been under court order since 2013 at a staggering cost of more $250 million in compliance costs. Many of the investigators and attorneys involved in these DOJ investigations travel from city to city seeking the large contracts to become a federal monitor.

Anyone currently assisting department and city leadership who is advocating for a consent decree in Phoenix should be closely scrutinized to ensure that they do not have a potential financial interest in the decision.

Consent decrees can be far reaching and substantially change department policies to the point where they eliminate proactive police work and overburden officers with administrative tasks.

If a department comes up with what they believe is a solution for an issue the DOJ has identified related to the consent decree, it must be approved by the monitor and ultimately a federal judge before implementing. That can take months for approval.

Decrees can lower morale, worsen shortages

Anything under the consent decree also requires increased reporting where officers are buried under paperwork. This creates an environment where there is too much risk to do any type of proactive policing to prevent or reduce crime such as stopping a suspicious individual.

This is why there are big increases in crime, especially violent crime, in those communities with consent decrees. In addition, officer morale suffers, leading to officers leaving the department and potential officer candidates opting for other agencies.

The Phoenix Police Department is already suffering from a significant officer shortage; a consent decree would be catastrophic for public safety.

If the intention of the DOJ investigation is to establish new practices and policies, the department already has a long-standing history of implementing reforms to increase transparency and accountability.

The department was an early adopter of body worn cameras and provides critical incident briefings, so the public has information in a timely manner.

DOJ operates in secrecy. Phoenix can do better

The leadership team is constantly reviewing national best practices and updating internal policies including the Use of Force Investigation and Evaluations program and protocols.

DOJ operates under a cloud of secrecy, although they claim to be collaborating with the department.

In fact, DOJ has not spoken to anyone within the department regarding the investigation; they’ve only made requests for information. There is a complete lack of transparency by them and the city of Phoenix about the direction of this investigation.

The residents of Phoenix deserve to know the direction their city is headed and have an important voice in this conversation.

We are confident in the work of the Phoenix Police Department and our officers on the street. Given the track record of DOJ, the city of Phoenix should reject any recommendations for a consent decree and focus on reforms that will maintain the integrity of the department and protect Phoenix residents.


Darrell Kriplean is president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. Reach him at office@azplea.com.