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Phoenix police facing staffing shortages

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Posted at 7:04 PM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 22:17:05-04

PHOENIX — While the City of Phoenix has grown over the last two decades, the police department has not. Since the early 2000s, the department has been in a perpetual state of trying to catch up after the recession and budget cuts hit hard.

So long before the bad headlines, like the U.S. Justice Department investigation or the record number of police shootings, there have been challenges in meeting recruitment goals.

But now, Executive Assistant Chief Mike Kurkenbach says it is getting even harder. “We’re losing on average 11 more than we’re hiring every month. That’s a significant number and it’s not a number seeing a turnaround.”

Currently, there are just under 2,900 officers on the force. But that number, Chief Kurkenbach says, changes day-to-day. On Wednesday, the Phoenix City Council’s Public Safety and Justice subcommittee learned many police officers and recruits no longer see the police department as a career. It’s just a job.

“We just recently had a 14-year officer, which would have been unheard of, decide 'I don’t want to do this job anymore,' and just leave,” Kurkenbach said.

The department is offering $7,500 bonuses to new recruits and police officers it hires away from other departments. But it has not, at this point, making much of an impact. The department says it’s expanding recruiting efforts and actively pursuing women and people of color to add to the ranks.

But the department’s history in some communities is making the sales pitch that much harder. “Young men have come out of the South Mountain community, went to the academy and then they wanted to go back to their community and police,” Assistant Chief Shawn Conley told the subcommittee. “They end up leaving us. A couple has left us because of the pressure in the neighborhood.”

Conley said the department isn’t giving up and will continue to recruit in those neighborhoods which have a difficult relationship with police.

In the meantime, the department says it’s studying ways to hire more civilians and bring back retired officers to work desk jobs so more officers can be on the street.

The subcommittee said it wants to learn more about that in a future meeting.