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MPD: Proactive? Professional? Progressive?
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
1st of a 3-part series
During recent months a number of rumors have surfaced about the Maricopa Police Department. Most of us just try to ignore rumor and innuendo when we hear it; it’s just gossip, after all. There comes a point, however, when it becomes so common that we begin to wonder if there is some basis in fact. This has become the case in Maricopa.
In this and the next two issues, The Communicator will seek to shed light on the rumors and get the facts about the innuendoes.
Maricopa is a young city, only 5½ years old. Maricopa’s Police Department is even younger. Having originally contracted with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement, the City prepared to take over its own policing when Patrick Melvin was hired as Chief of Police in the fall of 2006. In October 2006, Deputy Chief Kirk Fitch joined the Department.
The City began policing itself with a day shift on July 1, 2007. The City took over second shift in October of the same year (3 months ahead of schedule). By this time the Department had 43 employees. At that time Chief Melvin affirmed that the MPD policy manual will be available electronically in every police vehicle, as well as online at the City’s website, thus assuring that every officer would act in an appropriate and professional manner. On December 21, 2007, the MPD began fulltime policing of the City, covering all three shifts with its own officers. In February 2008, the Chief announced the Department would soon be at its recommended number of officers – 63.
On February 28, 2008, Police Chief Patrick Melvin was named as Acting Public Safety Director (he was subsequently named Public Safety Director), heading up both the Maricopa Police Department and the Maricopa Fire Department in a budget-cutting move. Director Melvin said he was “excited to begin combining law enforcement and fire services into a unified organization with the goal of providing the highest level of professional and efficient public services to our community.”
The vast majority of Maricopa Police officers are skilled, trained professionals striving to perform their duties for the City to the best of their ability. Nearly every officer in the department made a conscious “choice” to come to Maricopa to provide law enforcement for the new and growing community; it wasn’t just an “assigned” job or duty. Most of the officers have a personal stake in the community; their home and family is here.
While police officers are human, like the rest of us, and prone to error just like the rest of us, they are also held to a higher standard. It is their responsibility to not only police but to uphold the public trust; that is a heavy responsibility. If they make errors in judgment there can be grievous consequences, even consequences of life and death for themselves or others.
Within a police department – any police department – errors need to be dealt with quickly and decisively after thorough investigation. Department policies and procedures must be enforced rigorously, but fairly, and across the board. No officer can be “an exception” to the rules.
Perhaps the ultimate gauge of the health of a police department comes from within. If the department is functioning well within itself, this will be reflected in its interactions with the public it serves.
The City of Maricopa is a multi-racial and multi-cultural community and personnel in the Department reflect this. There is no place in Maricopa or in the Police Department for racism or racial bias in any form. In talking with officers in other agencies, The Communicator was informed that in the majority of police departments in Arizona, racial comments are dealt with quickly and severely. This may not be the case in the MPD.
The Communicator has compiled in excess of 130 pages of documentation regarding MPD irregularities, both in dealings with the public and internally.
There have been several complaints filed within the Department because of offensive racial incidents. The following were taken from Department employee statements:
It is logical to think that the officers implicated these incidents would perhaps be reprimanded and given further training in racial sensitivity, with the result that there would be no similar offenses in the future. This appears to not be the case. The officer accused in the January complaint was the same officer named in the June complaint.
- In January 2008, an internal report was filed against an officer for making insensitive comments about white people during a briefing for the graveyard squad. No internal investigation resulted from this report.
- In February 2008 an officer was investigated for allegedly making a racially insensitive and derogatory comment to a subject during an investigation. The officer accused underwent a polygraph (lie detector) examination – which he passed. The (superior) complaining officer was not subject to a polygraph examination.
- In April (or May) of 2008, an officer made a racially biased comment about a (superior) black employee of the Department. A formal complaint was later filed in this instance. At this time, we do not know the disposition of this complaint
- In June 2008, a racially insensitive email was sent by a (superior) officer to a Native American officer. Although the offended officer filed a formal complaint, the incident was dismissed because it was considered use of a common idiom.
“Well,” one might think, “maybe some people are just too sensitive.” Perhaps some people are too sensitive, but that is not the issue, is it? The issue is respect within the department for one another and respect for the community at large. If there is racial bias within the Department, isn’t that ultimately going to be seen in interactions with the public?
Every officer is under a certain level of stress from the time he or she takes that oath and puts on that badge the first time. That is unavoidable; it “goes with the territory.” All law enforcement officers know that and voluntarily choose to accept it. The officer does not choose to accept being under additional stress from the “family” of fellow officers because of race or culture. The streets are a scary enough place; there should be no additional fear or stress put upon officers within the confines of the department itself because of bias. It is totally inappropriate and no officer should have to tolerate it.
In the next two issues, The Communicator will bring to light further problems within the Maricopa Police Department, including instances where allegations of excessive use of force were made and Arizona State law may have been violated.
(Due to the sensitive nature of the issues involved, all sources and documentations are being held in strictest confidence.)