The last year has been challenging for everyone as many businesses struggle with low staffing and the Phoenix police department is no different. Here’s what you should know.
Police in Phoenix have been under pressure from the public to be accountable especially in since the George Floyd protests in summer of 2020 shed light on how widespread police brutality can be. Distrust in the police and fear of retribution have created the perfect storm for local police.
The public trust in law enforcement has been eroding for decades, but now that tensions have been brought to a head, many would-be officers are hesitant to step into their role. At least 1,035 positions sit empty – positions that the police say are necessary for maintaining public safety.
Why Does Police Staffing Matter?
Without adequate police protection, there are concerns that public safety will be destroyed as the crime rate continues to climb.
According to the City of Phoenix, in 2020:
- Violent crimes increased by 15.6%
- Offenses totaled at 13,659
- Criminal homicide increased by 36%
Cutting corners when crime rates are so high is dangerous enough, but now the city is considering cutting officers and detectives from patrols and reassigning them to other cases. Detectives are already overwhelmed with the massive caseload, and there are concerns that stress and burnout are affecting performance.
Police and detectives must be able to evaluate evidence and perform their duties impartially and methodically. In some cases, evidence is time sensitive or delicate. Officers who are in a hurry to wrap up cases may miss critical details and mishandle valuable evidence that could mean the difference between prison and freedom for the accused.
In an already volatile environment, carelessness is unacceptable. The public is already concerned for their safety, and now that the quality of policing is plummeting, how can they trust law enforcement to do their job ethically?
The Department of Justice is asking the same question: how can public safety be guaranteed under these conditions? To the DOJ, it can’t be guaranteed which is why it’s launching an investigation into the Phoenix police department to determine how far the precinct has fallen and what needs to be done.
As mentioned in the previous section, concerns over the quality of policing and the lack of officers on patrol can lead to gaps in protection and sloppiness during investigations. The DOJ has a vested interest in public safety, yes, but also the justice system.
If there are critical errors during the investigation, then there may be evidence missing during the trial which in turn may lead to sending the wrong person to jail. The justice system in America operates like a machine – if one part falters or fails, the whole thing could stop working.
What Happens Now?
Until the DOJ completes its investigation, it’s up to the City Council and police department to bridge the gaps and protect the citizens and attempt to restore public trust. There are many contributing factors to the staffing shortages from low pay to extreme caseloads, but it’s unclear whether leadership and city councilmembers will push for changes in these areas.
Territorial Law will continue to monitor this issue.