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Do the Unions Run the Phoenix PD (comment on Jan 11 Az Republic)

January 28, 2015

Phoenix residents should pay particular attention to the January 11 Arizona Republic article “Garcia, board differed on discipline.” The article questions whether the Phoenix Civil Service Board undermines the authority of the Chief by reducing punishments meted out to offending police officers. Most Phoenicians will agree that police officers should be held to a higher standard of behavior and character than other Phoenix employees, especially those who do not carry weapons and who are not asked to place their lives (and the lives of their fellow officers) on the line every day. This higher standard requires a more authoritarian approach to discipline than some people who have never worn a uniform will understand. We need only look to Chicago or New York or Washington DC for examples of what can happen when police discipline is not maintained at very high levels.
Phoenicians should know that this problem is not new to our city. Some with longer memories will recall an incident in the 1980s where seven Phoenix police officers were dismissed for public drunkenness, firing their weapons, and public disturbance. These incidents occurred under the Seventh Avenue bridge, a spot that had become a gathering place for off-duty cops, and these officers came to be known as the Seventh Avenue Seven. At that time we had another police chief who believed in very high standards for his officers, just like our recently terminated Chief Garcia, and he enforced those standards strictly. He terminated all seven officers.
I was serving on the Phoenix Civil Service Board when these seven officers appealed the terminations. At that time the Civil Service Board members also believed in very high standards for police officers and we upheld the terminations by a vote of 5-0. What happened next should be a lesson for Phoenix residents. Over the next three years the police officers appealed the decision to the Maricopa County Superior Court. The court eventually remanded the case to the Civil Service Board. During the intervening three years there were three new appointments to the board. The case drew so much publicity that the rehearing was conducted in the Phoenix Council Chambers.
Unfortunately (in my opinion), the new appointees to the Board did not have the same concern for police discipline. The Board voted 4-1 to reinstate the officers. By the time of the rehearing I was chairman of the board and I was the only board member who stuck to upholding the terminations. (One member changed his vote.)
I believe that this decision partly caused, or at least revealed, a decline in the authority of the Chief of Police and a consequent increase in behavior that should not be tolerated. Let’s not let it happen again.

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