Richardson: Recent Valley freeway snarls only part of the issue with DPS - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Richardson: Recent Valley freeway snarls only part of the issue with DPS

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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: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 5:31 pm | Updated: 7:27 pm, Tue Mar 12, 2013.

If you’re a commuter who endured one of the four recent massive traffic back-ups on Valley freeways thanks to serious accidents involving big rig trucks, no doubt you spoke words you’d never say in front of your kids.

The problems didn’t stop there. Traffic flooded the surface streets shutting down cities for hours.

Two of the accidents involved truck drivers the Arizona Republic reported Saturday had a history of “multiple violations.”

Truck enforcement has been a hot topic since Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Bobby Halliday’s links to the trucking industry were exposed during his 2010 State Senate confirmation hearing. After his confirmation, DPS prohibited officers from making “administrative stops” on trucks to check drivers’ log books and look for safety violations. In October, the Phoenix New Times reported “DPS officials took expensive baseball tickets from the trucking association in 2010 and 2011” and an internal investigation “revealed that the practice of DPS supervisors accepting tickets from representatives of the industry they regulated had become routine.”

The policy giving trucking companies a break has reportedly been rescinded, but fatal accidents involving big rigs jumped from five in 2010 to 16 in 2011.

In a November 2012 column — “Has DPS become another failed Arizona agency?” — I wrote that safety checks aren’t the only concerns when it comes to truckers.

Phil Jordan, a retired U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent, told me, “Commercial trucks are used extensively to carry drugs and then return the proceeds to Mexico. Arizona’s highways play a major role.”

The ongoing troubles and failures at DPS have forced city police to take on investigating organized crime, running crime labs, collecting and exchanging statewide information on criminals. They’re doing DPS’s job. DPS officers have told me that the Chandler, Mesa and Tucson police departments are now seen as Arizona’s leaders in the use of technology and attacking organized crime, not DPS. Now traffic problems from highways patrolled by DPS are impacting cities.

In an Oct. 7 story in the East Valley Tribune – “Arizona police agencies criticized in Senate” – the DPS Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center was,” for “questionable spending and issuing incorrect information after the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that showed how weak analysis could hinder law enforcement efforts.”

Without a centralized and coordinated effort like was once the case with DPS taking the lead in organized crime investigations, the public suffers and the criminal’s profit. No wonder organized crime loves Arizona.

A long time Arizona sheriff told me he refused an offer from DPS to help his agency with a major investigation due to their organizational ineffectiveness. A senior police command officer who heard the sheriff’s words echoed his feelings of disgust and added much of law enforcement has lost faith in DPS.

Having safe highways and assisting other agencies with investigations are DPS’s primary responsibilities.

DPS is reportedly at 2002 staffing levels, officers are driving patrol cars with over 120,000 miles and officers who haven’t had a raise in seven years are making 25 percent less than their peers. All while the Arizona Department of Transportation has expanded its highway patrol like duties and policing operations to over 300 officers. As ADOT has expanded, over a dozen other state agencies have hired officers to perform investigative duties that were once DPS’s bailiwick.

A mid-2011 study conducted by the Fraternal Order of Police showed 95 percent of DPS employees said morale is low.

DPS was formed in 1968 by merging the highway patrol, state narcotics, liquor control and prison records and remained an effective statewide agency until politics became the driving force.

Has the time come for the 55-year-old agency to experience a massive organizational overhaul?

Between governors picking ineffective directors and the legislature failing in its oversight duties, DPS has fallen victim to political agendas and lousy leadership.

DPS is just a shell of what it once was and it showed in a graphic way during the recent freeway accidents that disrupted cities.

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