You can’t pick up the paper or turn on the news without hearing about yet another Arizona police officer being fired or investigated for a crime or violating their department’s rules of conduct.
Last Saturday’s Arizona Republic told about a member of the Phoenix Police Department’s DUI unit being investigated for filing a false police report and insurance fraud. He reportedly lied about his stolen truck. Last July a Phoenix sergeant was caught on video stealing cash from a business during a burglary investigation.
On Friday the Republic reported an ex-con who was friendly with deputies at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office obtained a sheriff’s badge and access to county vehicles, uniforms and was impersonating a deputy. The list of misconduct at MCSO is lengthy. Last April a deputy pled guilty to stealing $5,000. Another deputy just pled guilty to beating a man and faces prison.
Last week an ex-Tempe officer was jailed for stealing city property. Earlier in the year a Tempe detective pled guilty to stealing evidence from the police station. A few weeks ago a Tempe officer was allowed to retire after he lied to get a search warrant. In December a Tempe detective reportedly violated internal policies and procedures, lied to a murder victim’s mother and botched a murder investigation along with several other serious felonies. He still has his job.
A Mesa police sergeant was indicted last summer. A Coolidge sergeant was arrested for beating his wife and a Pinal deputy was investigated for homicide.
In December it was reported a police motorcycle gang was involved in a drunken melee that sent a citizen to the hospital. Criminal charges are pending.
For whatever reason Arizona seems to be plagued with excessive police misconduct. The problems aren’t just with lower ranking officers.
In my April 20, 2012 column (Arizona lacking in good, honest law enforcement leaders,” evtnow.com/5ju) I wrote about the reported integrity and conduct issues of two sheriffs, the MCSO ex-chief deputy, the ex-Glendale, Quartzite and Glendale police chiefs, the current Tempe chief, the Arizona Attorney General and the head of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Since I wrote that column a Glendale assistant police chief has been demoted for intimidating a business owner.
Law enforcement officers are only as good as their leadership. Weak and corruptive leadership can trickle down and negatively affect an agencies organizational integrity and effectiveness.
The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, or AZPOST, is the agency that licenses officers and operates under the wing of DPS. AZPOST has no standards for what it takes to be a police chief and has been hit and miss when it comes to holding some officers accountable for their conduct. In many cases new police chiefs and command officers aren’t required to submit to a polygraph or a new background investigation.
AZPOST allowed a fired Chandler officer who cost the city millions after his negligence resulted in the deaths of two people to keep his officer’s license. They refused to take action against the Tempe detective who botched the murder case I mentioned above. Lying by a police officer in Arizona is no longer sure grounds to lose your license. Lying by an officer can’t be tolerated in any form.
With the serious corruptive influences from Mexican Drug Cartels ever present in Arizona, the integrity of our police should be of utmost concern.
Several officers who work for a department with a history of problems told me they’re proud to wear the badge, but ashamed of the departmental patch.
Just one bad officer can cause the public to distrust the police. It’s not fair to the officers who serve honorably to be painted with the same brush as the crooked officers who continually make the news. It’s also not fair to us. If we want a safe community to live in we must be able to trust the police and their leadership unequivocally.
• Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at email@example.com.