Richardson: To fix lingering problems at DPS, look to the top - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Richardson: To fix lingering problems at DPS, look to the top

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net.

Posted: Thursday, October 13, 2011 12:05 pm | Updated: 9:48 am, Sat Oct 15, 2011.

There are big problems in the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the state agency that, according to its mission statement, is supposed “to protect human life by enforcing state laws, deterring criminal activity and ensuring public safety.”

Ensuring public safety is easier said than done.

DPS needs an extremely well-led and highly motivated workforce to accomplish its mission and take the lead in Arizona’s growing war with Mexican organized crime gangs.

Arizona is a major transshipment point and base of operations for criminal activities coming from Mexico.

For years DPS has been ill-equipped for properly patrolling highways, running the state crime lab and collecting and sharing information thanks to legislative underfunding, short staffing and political meddling.

But since 2010, when Gov. Jan Brewer appointed retired DPS commander Bobby Halliday director of Arizona’s state police, more problems have arisen that are further impacting our safety and DPS’s mission.

Low morale and leadership issues are now part of DPS’s problems.

According to the May employee survey commissioned by the Fraternal Order of Police and conducted by the nationally recognized National Business Research Institute, 95 percent of DPS employees blame Halliday’s administration for low morale at the agency.

Halliday, who retired from DPS in 2008 as a middle manager, started his tenure as director by promoting two lieutenants, entry-level middle managers, to be his assistant directors and a retired commander to be his deputy director and round out the executive staff team charged with leading Arizona’s state police and more than 2,000 employees.

Questions about Halliday’s fitness for leadership go back to his senate confirmation hearings. He was questioned about a 2000 brush with Payson police following a disturbance, as well as his relationship with the trucking industry, a group critical of DPS’ enforcement efforts.  After Halliday’s confirmation, DPS altered its policy and prohibited officers from making “administrative stops” on trucks, which do not require probable cause but are done to check drivers’ log books and look for safety violations.

Commercial trucks are often used for carrying contraband back and forth from Mexico.

Questions have now arisen about DPS’s disbanding of a squad of detectives assigned to a joint federal, Phoenix police and DPS unit targeting major drug traffickers.

In response to the FOP survey, Halliday assembled a committee of sworn and civilian employees that included a major, bureau manager, sergeant, two officers and a crime lab criminalist to review the survey. The committee was chaired by a highly respected retired Phoenix police command officer and that city’s emergency management coordinator.

Halliday directed the committee to “address the findings of the 2011 employee survey and recommend solutions.” The committee reported “statistically the results of the survey reach a 99% confidence level with a 5% sampling error.” 

The committee reported the survey found the “primary root cause” of low morale could be traced right to the top of DPS. According to the committee report, “the Executive Staff’s vision, professionalism and judgement have resulted in a decreased quality of life and working conditions.” The survey “established low morale within DPS significantly affects the daily performance of employee duties.”

Low employee performance means the Mexican gangs win more often.

The committee recommended Halliday change his executive staff, establish a disciplinary review board, ensure policies are applied fairly and consistently and place more value on employee input.

On Sept. 19, the committee met with Halliday to discuss the recommendations. Halliday then responded to his committee’s report with his own employee survey and went on vacation.

Halliday can’t be blamed for DPS’s historical fiscal problems. Every state agency has been underfunded for years.

But the blame for DPS’ lingering leadership failures that were identified six months ago and the committee’s report that “low morale significantly affects the daily performance of employee duties” rests clearly with Halliday and no one else.

Maybe it’s time Brewer stepped in and fixed DPS’s leadership problem once and for all.

• Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net

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