Is Chief Michael Sullivan Preparing & Protecting His Agency?

A recent interview with Interim Phoenix Police Chief Michael Sullivan on the DOJ Investigation revealed some rather cryptic messages that may signal a future focus from the Department of Justice and questions as to whether Sullivan is proactively preparing for the DOJ Investigation.

The investigation into the Phoenix Police Department hit the two year mark in August and its clear that it did not begin with a single high profile incident. According to AZ Family,  “it stemmed from allegations of excessive force, discriminatory policing, retaliation against protesters, violations surrounding how it treats those with behavioral health and the homeless.”

That description sounds like every large city in America and considering that Phoenix officers respond to over 2 million calls a year, there will surely be some incidents that the DOJ wants to focus on.

According to Sullivan,  the department has turned over “tens of thousands of body camera videos and documents” along with hosting the DOJ on seven different occasions.

This relationship appears friendly at the moment but the DOJ never walks away. With millions of citizen contacts a year and thousands of videos, they will raise a concern about something and the early bet is on use of force.

Sullivan said that there has been an increase in police shootings and while he said that he doesn’t see anything “systematically,” he surely knows that the DOJ is not in the business of seeing it that way.

Sullivan comes from Baltimore and was likely hired because of his experience with the DOJ in that city but unless he wants Phoenix crime to compete with Baltimore, Sullivan should be analyzing his use of force at a level that places the increase in the appropriate context.

The idea that an increase in use of force is automatically the fault of law enforcement, is about as far from reality as it comes. Phoenix, like many other cities have implemented de-escalation training but all the de-escalation on the planet will not stop use of force if the suspect fails to de-escalate.

Could the increase in use of force be because the city recently saw the highest violent crime rate in two decades?

Could the increase in use of force be because violent criminals are not being prosecuted at the same rate as in previous years and thus, encountering law enforcement at an increased amount?

Sullivan is being paid to answer this now and not respond to a Department of Justice investigation later.

The time is over for law enforcement leaders to simply talk use of force “numbers” and to analyze them at a high level to place context around them.

After all, the numbers mean nothing without the details.

The DOJ has a 30 year track record of using simplistic statements (and methodology) to accuse agencies of “patterns and practices.” Once again, Sullivan must know this and he has surely read previous DOJ investigations to know what to expect in the coming weeks or months.

Will his agency be accused of a “pattern and practice” because there is an increase in use of force?

Will his agency be accused of a “pattern and practice” because those being subject to force by the Phoenix Police Department do not reflect the population of the community exactly?

We can answer both questions without seeing the DOJ final investigation because we have read other reports and have spoken to several experts.


We specifically know that the race of those that use of force are used on will not reflect the community because those committing crime in Phoenix do not reflect the community. We know that because the FBI says so and we assume that Sullivan is aware of this because his agency reports the arrest (and victim) data to the FBI.

Sullivan also knows what we know.

The entire population in Phoenix is not subject to having force used on them. Only those being arrested have force used on them.

So, any comparison of anything to the activity of the Phoenix Police Department that attempts to use the entire population as a baseline is flawed from the beginning. This is exactly what will be in the final investigation by the DOJ and we expect Sullivan to be prepared for this.

This takes research, study and an analysis of use of force at a very high level. 

The residents of Phoenix deserve this and it’s not only possible but it’s being done across the country and appears to be kryptonite to the DOJ.

Sullivan can simply ask his colleague in Dallas, Chief Eddie Garcia, at this months IACP Conference.

When unveiling the public dashboard earlier this year, Garcia said that “You can have your own perceptions. You can have your own opinions, but you can’t have your own facts,.”

Garcia calls the Police Force Analysis Program the “Pinnacle of Transparency.” In fact, you can view what Garcia has done here.

Interim Police Chief Michael Sullivan’s job is to not “wait” and respond to the DOJ but ensure that any “opinions” they may have are met with facts.