by Cole Lauterbach
Arizona’s capital is fighting to recruit new police officers as its current patrol force is more than four dozen officers short of the bare minimum.
Officers with the Phoenix Police Department reported their monthly recruitment and staffing work to the city council’s Public Safety and Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday morning.
The police force, totaling 2,775 sworn positions, had only 1,045 patrolling officers as of Nov. 2. The department has a minimum patrolling officer goal of 1,096, 51 more than current levels.
“We are losing officers at an accelerated rate,” said Executive Assistant Chief Michael Kurtenbach, adding the department knows of another 254 officers who plan to quit before the end of the year.
Forty-eight officers elected to split with the department before completing the full five years of the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) program. DROP is a voluntary program that offers officers a one-time payment at retirement, in addition to monthly retirement benefits, in exchange for finishing all of the final five-year agreement. Kurtenbach said the final two years of DROP potentially mean “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in extra money.
“They’re leaving a fortune on the table,” Council Member Jim Waring said. “That might be the most worrisome sign of all of this, that people would rather do that … and we’ve made it so untenable, or circumstances made it so untenable, that they’d rather leave. If that doesn’t define crisis, I don’t know what does.”
Fewer officers on duty means costly overtime for the city and officers being pulled from investigations until the force adds recruits. Kurtenbach said the department is working on programs that would allow retired officers to work on investigations. In addition, more civilians would be tasked with department booking paperwork, Kurtenbach said, allowing more officers to patrol.
The Phoenix Police Department had 36 officers in training as of Nov. 2, with another 17 recruits training at the academy.
The officer shortage comes amid a spike in emergency service calls. Phoenix police estimated officers will respond to 134,638 calls in 2021, up from 123,184 in 2020. The department’s average response time through October was 6 minutes, 52 seconds.
“If we continue to lose sworn staff at the rate we’re losing, or to be candid, if we even stop losing right now just as calls for service are going up and violent crime is going up and response times are going up,” Kurtenbach said. “At some point, we’re going to seriously have to look at redeploying resources that already exist if we can’t bring new officers through the door.”
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Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, and Nevada. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.
Photo “Phoenix Police Officer” by Phoenix Police Department.