PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department has a staffing problem. The department has 400 open positions and hundreds more officers are nearing retirement.
"I would tell you fundamentally, safety is paramount in our city," said District 1 City Council Member Ann O'Brien.
When the Phoenix City Council votes on the 2022-2023 City Budget Wednesday, it will include money to recruit and retain officers, raising the starting salaries by nearly $20,000. The salaries for current officers will go up as well, approximately 10% higher than any other law enforcement agency in Arizona.
"In a time when inflation is over 8%, housing is a shortage, rents are up, mortgages are going up we need to ensure our officers can afford to live and work for the City of Phoenix," Council member O'Brien said.
"Where I work, I only get a raise when I exceed expectations," said Anna Hernandez, whose brother was killed by police in April of 2019. According to Phoenix Police, Alejandro Hernandez had repeatedly pointed what turned out to be a replica gun at police when he was shot. "The City of Phoenix Police Department is far below meeting expectations," Anna Hernandez said.
Anna was among a group of people who came to city hall Tuesday who believe the money for police salaries is better spent on social programs like housing, substance abuse, and heat abatement, programs they believe will save lives. "We're here to make it clear we know what you're doing, that these lives rest on your hands, on your shoulders, on your conscience," said Viri Hernandez of the group Ponder for Action.
Council member O'Brien says the city spent millions of dollars in federal covid relief funds to address housing and other social needs. Last month Phoenix opened a 200-bed shelter to help get people off the streets during the heat. Keeping the city safe, O'Brien said, is the council's top priority. And he says that means making sure there are more officers on the streets.