The Phoenix Police Department is making some changes to the way services are delivered to the public and it could affect the number of officers patrolling Ahwatukee Foothills.
Department leaders will present the plan to the public during a meeting at Pecos Community Center, 17010 S. 48th St., on June 19 at 6 p.m.
The police department is changing from an eight-precinct system to a six-precinct system. This means boundaries officers patrol will be expanded and the total number of squads will be reduced. Precinct boundaries have been reworked and the precinct that currently covers Ahwatukee will be expanding to cover portions of south Phoenix as well. The idea is the number of officers in each squad will increase because the total number of squads has decreased.
“The question I get asked from guys is there’s the same number of citizens, same number of calls, same number of officers. What’s changing,” said Joe Clure, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA). “The only answer I can come up with is we’re going to have more guys on squad. They’ll still cover the same amount of area, same amount of calls, same amount of population, but at least there will be somebody to come if you call for back up. They might be coming from a ways away, but that’s the position we are in right now.”
The new model isn’t ideal, according to any decision maker, but the department is struggling with staffing. They’re down more than 500 officers and are expecting to lose another 150 through attrition in the next year. The city only has plans to hire 25 more.
“This is being done solely and exclusively because of the manpower shortage,” Clure said. “Public safety begins first and foremost with officer safety. If we can’t have a safe environment there’s really no way we can keep the community safe. There’s no other operational rational why we would be doing this. It’s purely about trying to make do with what we have.”
Councilman Sal DiCiccio said while the change may have a negative effect on Ahwatukee Foothills, because of the area’s strange boundaries, he believes it will have a negative impact on all areas of the city.
“What they did is they all got together and said this is the best of the worst case scenarios of what can be done,” he said. “Outside of this I don’t know what else Phoenix can do because we are short 500 officers. Am I happy with it? No, not at all, but I don’t know what else they can do with their shortage of officers. Does it hurt our area? Of course it does, but it hurts all of Phoenix.”
DiCiccio is supporting a new citizen initiative many officers are trying to get on the November ballot. The initiative would force Phoenix to set a minimum staffing level of 2.5 officers per thousand people. According to the initiative the city would need to achieve that level by 2018. Currently, the city has about 1.9 officers per thousand.
“What my office did is we wanted to see where we rank right now in the top 25 cities in the country with police officers per population ratio,” DiCiccio said. “We’re basically 21st out of 25 cities. If we go to 2.5 it puts us right in the middle. It doesn’t put us at the top, but it puts us at the middle of the pack. The initiative they are putting forward is an incredibly reasonable initiative. It requires the city to focus on priorities. Police staffing is a priority.”
The initiative does not say how the hiring of officers would be funded.
“The Phoenix police officers are tired,” Clure said. “I think that was made quite evident at the recent council meetings, even more so than I realized. I didn’t realize how tired and exhausted these guys are in terms of working significantly understaffed. It has reached the point of not being safe. That’s unacceptable. I think trying to work with a 500-plus man shortfall is wearing on the guys tremendously. I think this change is like putting a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound. You do what you can. Is it not an answer. It is a temporary fix to attempt to avert being overrun until we can get more police officers.”
For more information on the change, attend the meeting Thursday night or visit phoenix.gov/police. The changes are expected to take effect in October.
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