The Phoenix Police Department has had a significant drop in felony cases submitted to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in recent months, according to data obtained by ABC15.
From October of 2015 through February of 2016, Phoenix police submitted 25 percent fewer cases to county prosecutors compared to the same time period one year earlier.
In total cases, the decrease equates to nearly 1,600 felonies.
Recently, the number of misdemeanor charges has also dropped considerably. The timing appears to correspond with the mid-October launch of the police department's $30 million record management system, or RMS.
But there’s not a consensus on whether the new RMS is to blame.
Multiple officers and detectives throughout the department tell ABC15 that the new RMS is cumbersome and bogging them down. But city officials refute that it’s primarily responsible. A spokesman said that the department’s bare-bones police staff has had a greater effect.
Regardless, a retired Phoenix police commander and criminal justice professor said the drop is alarming.
“You have a significant problem that must be addressed,” said Jeff Hynes, who now teaches at Arizona State University and Glendale Community College. “Bells and whistles should be going off."
ABC15 requested data and statistics from both the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and the Phoenix City Court. Here’s a breakdown of what those figures show:
ABC15 requested the data and statistics to try and learn whether the launch of the new RMS has impacted public safety. So far, the Phoenix Police Department has not released several batches of records that were requested by ABC15 journalists in November.
The new RMS is called inPursuit, a program made by the Alabama-based Intergraph Corporation. The department has defended its purchase and implantation of the new RMS despite its long and controversial history.
Before Phoenix contracted with Intergraph, several other police departments had major issues with the company’s RMS and 911 computer systems dating back a decade. In places like Dallas, New York, San Antonio, San Jose, Washington D.C. and Virginia, police departments have had a wide range of problems with things like lost police reports or 911 dispatch crashes.
The launch of Phoenix’s RMS was delayed by more than a year, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of extra dollars, records show.
Since its launch, police sources have told multiple ABC15 reporters that the new system has been a nightmare, especially when it comes to booking suspects.
The sources said that the time it takes to arrest suspects and get them booked into jail often takes several times longer than it did with the old system. Internal memos also show that the department has acknowledged the booking process is a problem and needs improvement.
ABC15 obtained recent dispatch messages showing backlogs of three to four hours to book suspects.
Sources also said the booking time has caused some officers to avoid arresting people for minor crimes or warrants issued for non-dangerous offenses.
“If I’m going to be off the street for three or four hours, and [I'm] going to let my squad suffer or the other officers I’m working with may not have a backup, I’m not making that arrest,” said Hynes, a retired Phoenix commander.
The new launch of the new RMS came at a time when Phoenix is struggling with a police force that has lost hundreds of sworn officers in recent years.
Due to a hiring freeze and attrition, the department has lost more than 700 sworn officers since 2008. Only recently have a few dozen new recruits hit the streets.
In a move to cover basic beat coverage and answer calls for service, Phoenix Police detectives have also had to start working patrol shifts.
In an email, Phoenix Police spokesman Sgt. Trent Crump sent the following statement about the reduction in cases and charges:
“The Phoenix Police Department has not conducted a study into the reduction of case submittals to prosecutors over the last couple of years, however a number of contributing factors should be considered. These factors include the luxury of an overall reduced crime rate in Phoenix, the most significant staffing reductions and cost savings efforts in the department’s history, a newly established and intense officer training schedule requiring literally thousands of hours of reduced patrol time and an intense scrutiny of policing, by the public, like never seen before. While technology upgrades may also play a role in this continued reduction, we are confident that the public understands this is a necessary part of information sharing and providing the highest level of service to our community.”
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at firstname.lastname@example.org.