Phoenix police aren’t excited about the new precinct model that will take effect in October but all seem to agree it’s the only option until Phoenix hires more police officers.
The department presented its plan to the public during a meeting Thursday, June 19, at Pecos Community Center.
The proposal is to reorganize the city’s eight precincts, which were created in 2010, into seven precincts, including the new downtown precinct. This means patrol officers will be responsible for more geographical area but there will be more officers per squad, so officers will also have more backup if needed.
Cmdr. Mike Kurtenbach of the Maryvale Precinct, who is also an Ahwatukee Foothills resident, presented the plan. He said the major takeaways are that the department is doing this to enhance officer safety and the delivery of service to the community.
“I would not present any plan that would harm the city of Phoenix. I certainly wouldn’t present a plan that would put the people of Ahwatukee in harm’s way,” Kurtenbach said. “It’s very important for you to understand that.”
At the department’s peak, the city had nearly 3,400 officers. Those officers were divided into six precincts and 106 squads. That made for an average of 11 or 12 officers per squad. With the current configuration of eight precincts and 132 squads, there are an average of 7.8 officers per squad. If the department does nothing, by 2015 there will be fewer than 7 officers per squad. Often officers are sick or need days off and that leaves fewer, sometimes by even two or three, officers per squad.
With this proposal, each squad would have an average of 9.1 officers.
The department uses a formula based on calls for service, crime rates, population and geography to determine how many officers are in each precinct and squad. Ahwatukee has a low crime rate, but because of the odd geographical area, there will be more officers in the South Mountain Precinct.
“Ahwatukee is a great community,” Kurtenbach said. “We will not abandon Ahwatukee … We’re doing this not because we want to, but because we have to.”
Officers will bid for their new positions in August. The changes will take effect Oct. 20.
Those at the meeting Thursday night agreed the proposal was not ideal but necessary. The only way to fix the problem is to hire more officers. The city hopes to begin hiring in April 2015, but it takes at least 12 months to get officers ready for patrol, and the 25 new officers per quarter will not make up for those expected to leave. The city knows of 66 officers who plan to retire in fiscal year 2014-15, and traditionally the department loses three to five officers per month for various reasons.
“You have a lot of adversity you’re working under right now,” said John Augustyn, president of the Association of Retired Phoenix Officers. “It hurts us as retirees to see what’s going on. We’re very concerned about the safety of the officers.”
Joe Clure, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, attended the meeting on his own Thursday night to tell residents about PLEA’s plan to hire more officers. The association is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would require the city to hire enough officers to maintain 2.5 officers per thousand residents. Currently, the city has less than 2 officers per thousand residents. The initiative, by design, does not include any funding source for the new officers. That would be up to the city to figure out, Clure said.
“It’s not safe right now for our officers,” Clure said. “This is not a police department problem. It’s a city leadership problem. You need to let your city leaders know what you want your police department to look like.”
The full plan and maps of the precinct proposal are available online at Phoenix.gov/police.
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