‘Exhausted’ police ask Chandler officials for help SanTan Sun News

‘Exhausted’ police ask Chandler officials for help

April 26th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
‘Exhausted’ police ask Chandler officials for help
Community
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By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Chandler Police Chief Sean Duggan is pleading for help from city officials to improve his department’s staffing levels amid an inexplicable strange spike in violent crimes.

And now two police organizations – The Chandler Law Enforcement Association and Chandler Lieutenants & Sergeants Association – are recommending a five-year plan for an additional 83 sworn officers to address critical police staffing shortages in the City of Chandler.

“This would bring Chandler in line with other Valley agencies in a fiscally responsible way,” the two groups said last week in a release.

Protests, shootings and a pandemic have plagued his department for the last year and the wearying job conditions have been making it harder to recruit new officers, the chief said said.

Duggan said he’d like to fill 15 vacancies just to get the city up to its staffing capacity but Chandler is having to compete with every other Valley city for the same pool of suitable candidates – and that pool is becoming smaller.

“There aren’t many people that are willing to do the difficult job of being a police officer,” the chief said.

The two police associations noted that it has been 13 years since new police positions have been added despite the continuous influx of new families and corporations to Chandler.

“Instead, positions have been reassigned to meet only basic patrol needs, leaving a gap in other investigative and proactive policing divisions,” they said.

“We will be there when we are needed. We’ve always been there,” said Michael Collins, CLEA President.  “We’ve done more with less for a long time, but now, even though our officers are working more overtime than ever before, Chandler PD is struggling to fill shifts.

“We’re stretched very thin. It’s happening more than anyone should be comfortable with and our citizens deserve better.”

The hiring conundrum comes at a time when Chandler is grappling with a sudden uptick in shootings and homicides.

In 2020, the city logged 75 shootings – 16 more than the previous year – that resulted in 26 injured victims and nine deaths.

One incident involved a 26-year-old man who allegedly fired up to 100 rounds of ammunition at police officers during a standoff near Commonwealth Avenue. No one was seriously injured and the suspect is awaiting trial for several charges of attempted murder.

The city already recorded 27 shootings during the first couple months of 2021, setting the new year on a trajectory that may continue Chandler’s troubling crime trend.

Duggan said Chandler’s shooting statistics are “alarming” and have prompted him to develop a special task force assigned to tackle gun violence.

“This is the number one priority in our police department right now,” Duggan said.

The task force will examine where shootings have been occurring and try to explain the escalation in violence.

“We’re trying to get an understanding of what’s happening,” Duggan added, “but we just don’t know why and we’re trying to put those pieces together so we can prevent these shootings from occurring.”

In addition to shootings, Chandler has recently seen a steady rise in sexual assaults. The city recorded having 123 assaults in 2020, which was more than double the amount seen in 2014.

Chandler’s shifts in crime trends are similar to those in other cities throughout the country and some experts believe they are related to the pandemic’s impact.

According to a report published by the Council on Criminal Justice, homicide rates jumped 32 percent during the pandemic and assaults increased by 11 percent. Property crimes have taken a nosedive in many – which some experts attribute to so many Americans staying home during the pandemic.

Despite the local uptick in violence, Duggan said Chandler is still experiencing historic downturns in other types of crime. The city’s overall crime index has dropped by more than 30 percent in the last 10 years.

“To ensure we continue down that path,” Duggan said, “we need to invest in our police.”

The chief noted how Chandler has the same number of sworn officer positions it had in 2008 even though the city’s population has grown significantly over the last decade.

Officer numbers slightly declined during the Great Recession and rose to pre-recession levels but Duggan said that’s not enough for the amount of work needing done today.    

The police department has reassigned up to 15 positions to the patrol division, which has strengthened the city’s first line of defense for responding to 911 calls. But other divisions have had to operate without additional support. 

“What we didn’t do is that we have not really adequately addressed – for over a decade – the needs throughout the rest of the department,” Chief Duggan said.

Chandler’s officers are additionally reacting to circumstances that didn’t exist a decade ago; a growing amount of cybercrimes, civil unrest over police brutality and a greater reliance on police for answering cases where people are in mental crisis.

Duggan said the number of court petitions his agency receives to detain a mentally ill resident has grown by 65 percent.

“It’s increasing exponentially year after year,” he said. “This is an issue not being addressed throughout society and it falls into the lap of police.”

Chandler also has had cohorts of protestors on the sidewalks along Arizona Avenue at various times throughout the year.

Some protests targeted Chandler Police after an officer fatally shot a 17-year-old boy in January during a traffic stop near Gazelle Meadows Park.

Duggan said the recurring frequency of protests impacts resources.

“Our policing model is not set up for protests,” Duggan said. “These events require significant overtime, changing schedules and major disruptions to people’s lives.”

The overall climate for local policing has now prompted representatives from Chandler’s police unions to call upon the city’s leaders for additional support before more officers get burned out.

Michael Collins, president of the Chandler Law Enforcement Association, said the city’s officers need to know there’s a “light at the end of the tunnel” after they’ve been forced to endure a turbulent year.

“Our people are exhausted,” Collins said. “They have been asked to do more with less for a very long time.”

Sgt. Tom Lovejoy, president of the Chandler Lieutenants and Sergeants Association, said the city should have done something years ago to make Chandler more competitive in the hiring market for new officers.

He claims he made a presentation before the city’s leaders back in 2018 about staffing problems and didn’t see much of a response afterwards.

“You heard me pleading back then for help and nothing happened,” Lovejoy said.

Acting City Manager Joshua Wright said conversations have been happening on a daily basis regarding the police personnel needs and that officials have been looking for new strategies to address them in the near future.

“We’re going to look at this challenge holistically,” Wright said. “There are things that we can do involving all aspects of our organization to free up capacity for our officers.”

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