As a Phoenix police officer and the President of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, I have never experienced six months on the job like the first half of 2018.
Already this year, police officers across Maricopa County have had to use lethal force 47 times. In Phoenix, we have had 27 lethal force incidents in 2018 – more than the total number of officer-involved shootings all last year.
Why are Phoenix cops pulling the trigger more frequently in 2018, and with more deadly results?
For the Phoenix Police Department, that’s now the $150,000 question.
That stack of taxpayer cash – equivalent to the cost of adding 1.5 fulltime police officers to our department – is what Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams has proposed spending on a study of police shootings undertaken by a Washington, D.C. think tank that calls itself the Police Foundation. This study, which appears to have no real objective or defined parameters, feels to PLEA’s leadership less like a fact-finding mission and more like a political smokescreen.
Given that every single use-of-force incident in Phoenix already receives intense scrutiny at multiple levels within our department and by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, the Chief’s study appears costly and unnecessary. Rather than City Council voting to spend 150 grand, here’s a suggestion that would cost nothing: Why not first ask the men and women on the frontlines why deadly shootings have increased?
What would our members tell you?
For starters, contrary to the inflammatory rhetoric hurled by certain groups, there isn’t a police officer in Phoenix who comes to work hoping “today is the day I get to shoot someone!” In fact, the opposite is true. For cops, our service weapons are defensive. We use them only under extreme circumstances to protect our lives or the lives of those we protect. That’s how we’re trained and it’s what the law demands.
So what’s different on the street today? Not police. We’re the constant in the equation. Our training is constant and continuous, as are the policies we must obey. By contrast, the criminal element we face daily is unpredictable and ever more violent. This sliver of the population keeps our department busy around the clock. They have no regard for the law. Nor do they care about their own safety, the safety of police or the safety of anyone who calls Phoenix home.
There are additional factors at play here, points PLEA recently laid out in a letter to City Council. Our police department has been allowed to grow dangerously understaffed, even in the face of rising violence. Our porous southern border has made it easier for violent drug traffickers and human smugglers to use Phoenix as a criminal hub. And we are facing a growing number of hardened criminals who would rather shoot it out than risk returning to prison.
The opioid addiction wave also has hit Phoenix hard, creating a street population prone to violence. And we interact daily with a homeless population quick to grow violent and with depressed and suicidal people who use the police as a means for self-harm.
Finally, there’s a growing anti-authority segment of society who believes it’s their right to challenge, obstruct, resist and fight with police, as opposed to respecting society’s laws.
None of this will be easy to address. And nothing that makes policing in Phoenix so challenging will be improved by a $150,000 study that will surely reveal the obvious: Working as a police officer will always mean facing down people who are dysfunctional, dangerous, aggressive and combative. There will always be evil in the world.
Despite the best efforts of Phoenix police, the explosive situations we face daily sometimes require lethal force to protect you, your families and our lives. We don’t relish the thought, but we understand it comes with the badge.