Police union rep disputes mayor’s take on Chandler crime - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Police union rep disputes mayor’s take on Chandler crime

February 28th, 2022 development
Police union rep disputes mayor’s take on Chandler crime
Community
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By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

The president of a group that represents Chandler’s police officers is taking exception to one line in Mayor Kevin Hartke’s State of the City speech.

“Crime rates are the lowest in 35 years thanks to the efforts of our community and police,” Hartke said. “Crime rates this low occurred in the ’80s when Chandler only had 80,000 residents.”

“That doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Michael Collins, president of the Chandler Law Enforcement Association.

Collins said there are many reasons the mayor can make that claim. First, the city uses the old FBI standards that allow to count as only one crime in a spree of crimes committed by one felon.

Second, the mayor was referring to a period during the COVID-19 pandemic, when, he said, officers did not respond to some calls for service to limit exposure to the coronavirus.

And finally, crime has changed from the 1980s: Collins said police respond to  more mental health situations now and have more identity thefts and other computer crimes that were not even tracked 40 years ago.

“[It’s] not a complete picture to what’s happening with law enforcement and what’s happening with public safety in our city,” Collins said.

And what is happening with law enforcement in Chandler?

“Our department hasn’t kept up with the growth of this city,” Collins said. “We’ve been asked to do more with less for almost 13 years now. We’ve kind of reached the breaking point.”

The city is standing behind the mayor’s comment.

“The Chandler Police Department has used the Uniform Crime Reporting Program methodology for the past 50-plus years,” said Matthew Burdick, the city’s communications director. “The program’s consistent methodology and length of time in use, provides the most accurate summary to compare year-to-year serious crime rates.

“Bottom line, the data comparison of crime statistics shows serious crime rates in 2021 are the lowest they have been since the 1980s.”

Collins said another issue is that so many officers have had to go on patrol duty because the department doesn’t have enough people.

“Our department at this point is almost totally reactive; we have very few pro-active units left,” Collins said.

“We’ve had to take from those units, take from those executive divisions, take from our bike officers, take from our motorcycle officers, and we’ve had to cram them into patrol to try and stem the flow for calls for emergency service,” he said. “The best way for us to keep the community safe is to prevent crimes, and we’re not in any way doing that.”

Chandler has one of the lowest staffing levels compared to population of any Valley city, Collins said, stating the city has one officer for every 824 residents. He bases this on 335 officers on the street.

But the city says it has 345 paid positions with only two vacancies.

Collins said the stanard is one officer for every 500 people.

Of seven Valley cities examined, he said, Tempe had the best mark with one officer for every 528 residents.

Collins said it’s not hard to guess why Glendale is doing better filling their positions: That city is offering a $10,000 bonus for new recruits and experienced officers who are willing to switch.

Chandler offers a $3,500 bonus for new recruits. That ranks the lowest of cities that offer a bonus. Gilbert and Scottsdale do not offer a bonus at this time.

Phoenix offers a $7,500 bonus and Mesa hands out $5,000. Tempe has the same $3,500 bonus that Chandler does, but its starting pay is about $5,000 higher annually.

There’s a nationwide shortage of police officers, Collins added and there are complex reasons why.

For one thing, officers are scrutinized now more than ever and many times they are criticized for their split-second decisions. In addition, changes made to the state’s pension system mean that instead of being able to retire in 20 years, new officers in their 20s will have to work nearly 40 years to collect on their pensions.

He said it takes a special kind of person who is willing to serve their community in the current environment.

“Our officers are showing up for every single shift, they’re taking overtime shifts, they’re breaking their backs to make things work here,” Collins said. “We want a commensurate and equal commitment from the city.”

About 80 current officers are eligible to retire, Collins said. It takes 18 months from when an applicant is hired to get him or her through the police academy and fully trained.

Chandler is offering its officers a $2,000 retention bonus. Collins said that’s a start, but it is lower than other Valley cities.

Last spring, Police Chief Sean Duggan gave a presentation to Council as part of the budget process and called for hiring more officers. A couple of members of the Council expressed surprise that staffing levels have fallen so far.

Vice Mayor Terry Roe, expressed unhappiness that he was hearing about it for the first time in a public setting.

“They were given a presentation in 2018 where this very issue was laid out to them, including several of the ones who mentioned they didn’t know about it, or didn’t want to have a public conversation,” Collins said. “The fact of the matter is they did know about it, and either chose not to deal with it then or just hoped it would go away.”

Burdick said the city has stepped up its efforts to improve pay and benefits for police officers, citing the city’s memorandum of understanding with police.

“The MOU provides police officers with up to a 5% merit increase each of the next two years, plus a one-time retention bonus of $2,000 to be paid July 2022,” he said. “The agreement also provides a 5% special assignment pay differential for police officers working in specialty assignments.

“Police officers will receive more city contributions into their retirement health savings account and higher allowance toward police uniforms and equipment,” Burdick continued.

Collins said the city figured out it’s cheaper to pay officers overtime than it is to hire new employees who will get benefits and be eligible for a pension.

“Eventually you’re going to burn that candle out, and we’ve long been burned out,” Collins said. “We’re having trouble finding people who want to come in and work that anymore. It’s not good for people who are making split-second, critical decisions to work 16-hour shifts three days a week. It’s just not.”

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