Police group calls Chandler officer hiring inadequate SanTan Sun News

Police group calls Chandler officer hiring inadequate

June 6th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Police group calls Chandler officer hiring inadequate
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By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

The Chandler Police Department will be hiring more officers in the coming year to make up for years of stagnation, but some police officials think the city’s plan doesn’t go far enough to meet the agency’s long-term needs.

Police Chief Sean Duggan has drawn up a five-year plan that adds 67 new positions to various divisions in the department. Several of these new positions could potentially come online in the next fiscal year, followed by more positions in subsequent years.

But a separate five-year plan devised by the Chandler Law Enforcement Association, which represents the interests of more than 250 local officers, goes beyond Duggan’s plan by recommending the addition of 83 officer positions.

Mike Collins, the association’s president, said Duggan’s hiring plan is a “good start” in correcting a system that allowed Chandler to go more than a decade without creating one new officer position.

But Collins believes the city needs to invest more in strengthening Chandler’s investigatory powers in order to make the police department more comparable to other agencies throughout the Valley.

“Our whole police department is pretty much reactionary,” Collins said. “We can respond after a crime happens, but we have very few units that can go out and be proactive.”

While Duggan’s plan adds 67 positions to the department, Collins pointed out how some of those jobs are for civilian employees who would work as forensic technicians or records clerks.

By contrast, all 83 of the positions recommended by the association are for sworn officers that would be divided up among the agency’s many units.

The chief’s plan doesn’t add any new detectives in some important units, Collins noted, so the association’s plan attempts to fill in some of the gaps it’s seen throughout the agency.

Collins said CLEA spent several months reviewing the department’s demands and evaluating how many more officers are needed to handle the existing workload.

“There’s plenty of stuff for people to do,” Collins said. “We are asking for what we need. We weren’t shooting for the moon so we could negotiate down.”

The CLEA plan recommends adding five investigators to Chandler’s gang unit, four officers to the homicide unit, four more to handle traffic enforcement and four officers to investigate property crimes.

Burglaries, thefts and robberies are some of the most common crimes seen throughout the city and Collins said Chandler’s property crimes unit in particular needs help investigating cases.

Although FBI data show Chandler’s property crime numbers have been declining slightly over the last few years, the city has recently begun to experience an uptick in violent crimes.

In 2020, the city recorded 75 shootings – 16 more than the previous year – which resulted in 26 injured victims and nine deaths. Chandler’s sexual assault cases have more than doubled since 2014.

The CLEA proposal additionally recommends hiring four new officers to investigate internet crimes, four officers dedicated to domestic violence incidents, four more narcotics officers, and two investigators specializing in human trafficking.

Chandler currently has 334 sworn officers, a number that has not grown for the last 13 years.

The city’s number of officers started to deplete during the Great Recession and slowly got back to pre-recession levels by 2020.

The city’s police associations attempted to sound the alarm on Chandler’s staffing problems in 2018 by making a presentation in front of the city council. But their protestations were met with little reaction.

The association’s current agreement with the city only gives its members the ability to address matters involving salaries and benefits. Any decisions involving staffing levels rest solely between the police chief and city management.   

Collins said CLEA has not yet received a response from the city after it released its five-year proposal to hire 83 new sworn officers.

“We’ve never had a conversation with the city — not one,” he said.

It’s important for the city’s leadership to have conversations with officers actually working out in the field, Collins said, and not just with administrators.

The department is close to reaching its breaking point, he added, so CLEA has felt compelled to take a more aggressive approach in steering the city into a new direction. 

The untimely deaths of two Chandler officers within the last six months have further exacerbated the concerns of the agency’s officers and have emboldened them to seek out resources that can ensure their health and safety.

Officers are beginning to feel exhausted, Collins said, which is prompting them to speak more publicly about their needs.

“At some point this dam was going to have to burst because, at some point, it became a huge mental health problem for our officers,” Collins added.

Matt Burdick, a spokesman for the city, said Chandler has excellent relationships with its police associations and expects there to be more dialogue in the future regarding staffing concerns.

But he emphasized the fact that CLEA is not in a position to bargain for higher staffing levels.

“We have ongoing communication with the Chandler Law Enforcement Association including about their perspective on police staffing,” Burdick said. “However, staffing levels are not a point of negotiation in the memorandum of understanding with employee associations.”

In the 2021-2022 budget the city council plans to adopt on June 10, Chandler has made room to incorporate 27 police positions into its payroll.

Twelve of the positions are new and the remaining 15 are overfill positions, which allow individuals to be hired and trained while current officers continue serving the community.

Burdick said the funding for these and any additional positions in the coming years will be addressed each year as part of the budget development process based on Chandler’s needs.

In order to recruit a slew of new officers in the coming months, the city says it intends to offer stipends as an incentive to attract applicants from the state’s competitive labor pool.

Lateral sworn officers can get $5,000, officer recruits can receive $3,500, and new detention officers can get $2,000. Individuals would receive half of the incentive upon being hired and the remaining half upon successful completion of a probationary period.

Collins said the association’s encouraged by the steps taken thus far by the city to improve staffing conditions, but he thinks there is more that can be done to prevent Chandler from winding up back in the position it’s presently in.

Police staffing is a complex topic that can’t be explained nor resolved quickly, he added, and will require more conversations in the coming months.

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