Valley police face danger, scrutiny and understaffing

Posted at 7:14 PM, Jul 08, 2016

In the aftermath of the Dallas attack and new police protests in Phoenix, officers in understaffed agencies are feeling even more strain.

"Everybody works a lot of extra hours; everybody works extra shifts," Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead said.

His agency still has more than 100 vacancies. The City of Phoenix appears to have the Valley's biggest shortage - 600 officers. A department spokesman said there were 2,689 sworn officers as of May, and 3,269 are needed to be fully staffed.

"It's not uncommon in some of our precincts... for officers to roll out of the gate at the beginning of their shift and have 30 or 40 calls stacked in the queue," said Phoenix Law Enforcement Association President Ken Crane.

Crane says officers are "definitely feeling the stress and strain of an overloaded, overworked department with just not enough manpower to get the job done." He says that increases the danger for officers and the public.

The union says some officers work 14-hour days, and sometimes 60-hour weeks. Detectives are pulling double duty by taking patrol shifts. At the same time, they are expected to stay sharp and make split-second life and death decisions. When an officer anywhere makes a bad decision, it can spawn backlash against all law enforcement.

"I can't tell you officers aren't afraid, but I can tell you we aren't too afraid to do our jobs," Milstead said.

Law enforcement experts say the need for full staffing is even more apparent after the Dallas officer shootings.

"There's no more important time in our history for a police officer to connect with the community, for officers to spend those extra few minutes with people," Milstead said.

Phoenix City Council just approved a property tax increase that will allow the department to continue hiring more officers.  Mesa City leaders are proposing a sales tax to do the same. 

Some police departments like Tempe and Chandler say they are fully staffed. Peoria says they have just 10 vacancies in a department of 200 officers, and they have more officers than they did 10 years ago.