Let’s hope Charles Flanagan, the new director of Arizona’s Division of Child Safety and Family, fixes the former Child Protective Services (CPS) agency once and for all. It’s been broken for a multitude of reasons and for as long as I can remember. It’s hard to imagine the fix will come with the wave of a magic wand in the hand of the latest new director.
CPS reform has failed over and over again largely because it’s an agency within a state government where mediocre leadership and bureaucratic management has long been rewarded and considered acceptable and even exceptional performance. Too often, the dullest bulb on the top of the tree is considered the shining light of excellence.
When was the last time an Arizona governor picked a dynamic and effective leader for a critical state agency?
There’s been a flock of nice guys, loyal political appointees, politically-connected amateurs, recycled state officials working on a taxpayer funded double-dipper pension plan and dedicated bureaucrats. But can you name a single leader chosen by our governors who’s changed an ineffective and inefficient culture; fixed what was broken, delivered first-class services on a daily basis and who left a long lasting legacy of excellence for years to come?
Flanagan is a former Department of Corrections officer who rose to the rank of warden before becoming a college administrator and then being appointed director of Juvenile Corrections by Gov. Jan Brewer. Now he will be venturing into an arena of public safety and law enforcement he has no advertised expertise in. Investigating crimes against children is a whole new game.
His lack of experience in crimes against children could be a plus, but it could also be a significant deficit. I’m told he’s very intelligent, passionate, an extremely hard worker, doesn’t like butt kissers, driven and highly organized and he definitely knows how to talk to the cameras.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Flanagan say the word “transparency” since becoming the face of child welfare change. Transparency has become the latest buzzword of government employees and elected officials.
CPS has a reputation and history of operating in the dark and not being transparent, some of which is prescribed by law. Time will tell if Flanagan can deliver.
While CPS is taking the brunt of the heat for the failure to properly investigate crimes against children and the state prepares to pump millions into Flanagan’s agency, what is the state doing to insure local and county law enforcement, the agencies that do the vast majority of child crimes investigations, has the funds, extra training and support to better do their jobs as child safety finally moves to the front burner of political and public safety issues?
As it stands now the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, the state agency that oversees hiring and training of the state’s law enforcement officers, has been remiss in requiring minimum standards for officers who investigate crimes against children. Arizona is also woefully lacking in providing basic and advanced training for all officers and detectives who conduct child crimes investigations. No telling how many deaths and cases of abuse or have taken place in Arizona due deficient law enforcement services?
Whether the issues surrounding law enforcement and child crimes are the responsibility of AZPOST, the governor or state Legislature, it’s all three if you as me, it’s a critical component that must be part of any successful discussion of protecting Arizona’s children.
The problem of child safety and properly investigating child crimes goes well beyond Flanagan and his new agency.
The bottom line is I hope Flanagan finally fixes the age-old child protection agency problem and the state fixes associated law enforcement problems once and for all.
• Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.