A new state line - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

A new state line

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Posted: Sunday, October 4, 2009 6:26 pm | Updated: 2:15 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Bill Richardson: Gov. Jan Brewer needs to cut spending and improve statewide public safety by intelligent and innovative design

Law enforcement services provided by Arizona government are in serious trouble. Gov. Jan Brewer recently asked state agencies to propose another 15 percent in budget cuts, which would render many law enforcement functions nearly impotent when compared with the state's homegrown career criminals and organized crime from Mexico.

Things haven't been all that good since former Gov. Fife Symington's 1990s-era Project SLIM gutted the Arizona Department of Public Safety of critical workers.

Statewide law enforcement in Arizona was once looked upon as being highly successful in attacking crime. Even with the international border, and the attraction to Arizona by mobsters from the East, state law enforcement agencies hit the gangsters hard and won the vast majority of the battles that kept the hoods out of town or on their side of the street.

Not anymore.

Arizona is now the gateway to the United States for drugs and organized crime from Mexico and has been for years. The first rule of organized crime is maximum return, minimum risk. There's a reason the cartels and their partners, homegrown street and prison gangs, love to do business here.

Essential statutory responsibilities involving the DPS crime lab are barely being met as it is. The lab reportedly has a backlog of 8,000 untested DNA samples that might solve any number of crimes, including murders and rapes. Meanwhile, smugglers love Arizona's sparsely patrolled highways. The state can't afford to cut any more essential law enforcement services.

There are many agencies at the public safety feeding trough that increase costs to taxpayers. According to the Arizona Peace Officer and Standards Board, the state has approximately 1,842 certified police officers working for at least 19 different agencies that perform statewide law enforcement duties. Almost 200 of those officers work for 10 different agencies investigating cases that can be linked to organized crime. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates as much as 80 percent of crime is committed by organized crime gangs.

In Arizona, the investigation of organized crime is a statutory duty of DPS, which also has a couple hundred officers tasked to this critical area.

Beyond uniformed DPS officers assigned to the highway patrol, Arizona also has approximately 175 mostly uniformed officers enforcing laws at the state Capitol and three university police departments. And just like DPS, each agency has its own chief, chain of command, reporting methods and the list goes on and on - and so does the duplication.

It doesn't stop there. The governor has her own complement of public safety employees in her offices of Homeland Security and Highway Safety. DPS personnel also perform highway safety and homeland security duties.

When there's that many public safety agency and office heads pandering for cash and attention from the governor and Legislature, it politicizes a system where favoritism, emotion, media manipulation, ideology and pet projects often prevail over cost cutting and sound public safety policy.

All state criminal investigators deemed vital to public safety should be brought into DPS. The duties of the Capitol and university police departments should be contracted to the police agencies that surround them geographically or be assigned to DPS. Security services at state buildings should be privatized. The Legislature is protected by DPS, Capitol police, unarmed state guards, and the streets surrounding the Capitol are patrolled by Phoenix police. Talk about excessive and wasteful.

The governor needs to eliminate her highway safety and homeland security offices and appoint a cabinet-level official, it could even be the DPS director, to oversee and pull together all of the state's public safety and correctional services under a single umbrella to ensure quality, efficiency and effectiveness while eliminating waste and duplication. There would be one boss responsible for statewide public safety.

Arizona will never achieve cost-effective and high-quality statewide public safety again without an all-inclusive, statewide anti-crime strategy.

While some will try and make the argument that consolidated statewide law enforcement services that cover a broad array of enforcement and investigative responsibilities within a single agency isn't possible, it happens all over Arizona in city and county law enforcement agencies, some bigger than a consolidated state agency would probably ever be.

The time has come to redesign Arizona's law enforcement services while cutting costs and reducing the size of state government. The updating and changes implemented at the Mesa Police Department as a result of major budget cuts resulted in better policing and a lower crime rate for less money. There's no reason the state can't follow Mesa's lead.

Part of any public safety agency cost review by the governor must include examining how many command officers an agency has and really needs. According to numbers supplied by DPS, the span of control for commanders to lieutenants is less than three to one. Nine to one or 10 to one is common in the private sector. Sergeants supervise, on average, five DPS officers plus those assigned by other agencies to special projects and task forces. Lots of bosses and not enough workers is expensive and hurts Arizona. And DPS isn't alone when it comes to command bloat.

Brewer needs to cut spending and improve statewide public safety by intelligent and innovative design. Do what has to be done in the short term, but get going on fixing what's long been broken, costs too much and fails to adequately protect us.

Reach retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson at bill.richardson@cox.net.

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