Uncertainty grows as Phoenix Police's staffing changes looms

- The Phoenix Police Department is suffering a big crisis.

After years of being on a hiring free, the department is now about 400 police officers short. With this big understaffing problem, Phoenix residents are waiting longer for help, when they call 911.

"It was taking us well over seven minutes to get to priority one, which is our persons against persons calls," said Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams. 

To combat the problem, nearly 160 sergeants, officers, and detectives will be re-assigned, and go back to patrol and local precincts at the end of this month.

"Never easy," said Williams. "I probably have bags under my eyes right now, I'll be honest, because of the people I know I'm impacting."

Some officers and residents are worried about the unintended consequences of those changes. Some argue the impact could be negative, possibly resulting on the baddest of the bad guys getting away, and cases taking longer to get solved.

"We realize that the waves have been pulling out, and the tsunami is coming, and February 20 is when we're worried that's going to happen," said Phoenix Police detective Josh Champion.

The re-assignments will take effect on February 20. Champion is not being re-assigned, but he still dreads the outcome.

"Unfortunately, due to the decrease in detectives and the amount of cases we already handle and the amount of cases were going to pick up from losing detectives, sometimes these cases might not be handled in a very rapid manner," said Champion.

When the re-assignments were first announced in December, the 20-officer Fugitive Apprehension Investigative Detail, also known as FAID, was on the chopping block.

"They do the dirty work of the city," said Kevin Sheridan, Vice Chairman of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Arizona. "They're out there catching the sex crimes guys, violent offenders, guys with bad warrants. True bad guys of the city."

FAID regularly logs major arrests. In recent weeks, its officers tracked down the ex-husband of the mother who was allegedly gunned down in front of her two young children.

Its officers were also a part of a pursuit involving an armed robbery suspect who led officers in a stolen UHaul truck.

"The FAID guys are super-seasoned, super experienced group of officers," said Sheridan. "That training and mindset and experience, you don't get by jumping into the job day one."

After the Tactical Command staff rallied to save FAID, Williams eventually decided to keep eight detectives and one sergeant on FAID.

With the coming changes to Phoenix Police, people other than officers are detectives are bracing for the changes. For some, like Judi Petersen, the changes are hitting home.

"These guys I won't ever be able to forgive, because they took my first born," said Petersen. Her daughter, Lynsey, was gunned down in a road rage killing 14 years ago. In the years since, Petersen has forged bonds with the Cold Case detectives that have been assigned to her daughter's case.

Recently, a new tip has come in that could finally lead to an arrest, but with the changes also means the disbanding of the Cold Case unit. Lynsey's murder case is being distributed among the remaining detectives.

"I understand public safety is paramount, but you cant forget 3,000 families, and you cant absorb those cases into an understaffed department," said Petersen.


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