With Phoenix cops threatening to go to the ballot to protect their bloated pay packages and fast lane pay increases -- raises that have gone far beyond that of other city workers -- the fight over police pay may not be over just because the City of Phoenix passed a budget.
The surprise moment of political clarity that threatens to finally cut back on the bloated pay of Phoenix Police officers has led to some odd political moments already, such as local civil rights advocate Jarett Maupin rushing to the defense of the boys in blue, who so often dish out the black and blue -- and worse -- in Valley neighborhoods, especially poor neighborhoods of color.
Sal Diccicio, generally a right wing opponent of unions, voted with the union thugs this time. Will Buividas, the cops' bargainer-in-chief on this one, had this to say: "It's weird, of course. And politics makes these strange bedfellows. The people supporting us last night were some of the same people who support The Goldwater Institute and got Goldwater to sue us on release time. It's a very interesting blender we find ourselves in."
SOCIALISTS IN BLUE
Local libertarian activist Jason Shelton, however, showed up to the city council debate as a lone dissenter, speaking after a long line of cops and police-advocates had their chance. Known for his past organizing against the hated freeway cameras and border checkpoints, Shelton denounced the police union and Phoenix officers as "socialists" and "pirates." It's nice to see the libertarian hatred of government and unions aimed in a direction that doesn't first and foremost screw over the poor for once.
Watch Shelton's comments in the the video below. Start it at 4:55 if it doesn't queue up automatically.
Shelton rightfully goes after several police myths, including the alleged dangerousness of the job and the nature of most police deaths on the job. In his remarks, Shelton mentions the leading cause of death for police: being hit by oncoming traffic.
Nevertheless, policing is universally revered in media and government. The death of any officer, for any reason, gets treated as a tragedy for the whole community, leading to civic responses quite out of proportion not only to the cause of death, but also the notice given to any other worker.
This city would be nothing without air conditioning repair technicians, for instance, and yet when is the last time we witnessed a public funeral for one of them? And yet on May 20th, the City of Phoenix placed a historical marker to commemorate the death of Officer Daryl Raetz, who was hit and killed by a vehicle while heroically making a DUI stop.
STEALING BREAD FROM THE POOR
Shelton also raises the issue of the regressive food tax, putting his finger on a crucial element of this debate that isn't getting much play: the salaries of Phoenix cops have depended in no small measure on a direct tax on the city's poorest residents.
Indeed, the Phoenix food tax was passed in 2010 specifically to preserve police jobs, among others. It's a real case of the poor paying not just more -- but twice! -- because, as a recent NPR study showed, it's the poor who are the overwhelming targets of police harassment and violence, including the fees and fines that keep the police in business.
In an April 30th position paper filed with Phoenix City Council (.pdf), PLEA (Phoenix Law Enforcement Association), one of the unions that represents Phoenix cops in the pay dispute, specifically blamed the repeal of the food tax as the cause of the pay cuts.
Police unions, used to the never-ending gravy train of raises, high tech toys, tax transfers, and Homeland Security grants, reacted with shock at the sudden reversal. Advocating for denying food to the poor is disturbing indeed. Taking it and putting it on your own plate even more so, which is essentially what the cops are advocating.
KILLING FOR A RAISE
The debate over the pay cuts come at a time of great concern over real and perceived increases in the use of lethal force by local cops (euphemistically referred to in the media with the passive voice term "officer-involved shootings"). Thus it was only natural that the two issues would become entwined in the debate over pay.
Returning to PLEA's position paper, the union itself draws the connection between increasing violence and cuts. While championing the reduction in crime by 40%, the union laments that the same hasn't been true for cop violence (.pdf) "Unfortunately, the same trend cannot be said for violence involving Phoenix police officers. In 2013 Phoenix police officers were involved in 31 officer involved shootings. Already in 2014, Phoenix police officers have been involved in 15 officer involved shootings, on pace for 60 officer involved shootings this year, almost double the amount from 2013."
As a side note, consider that both the cops and the media are happy with that tidy little bit of obfuscatory grandiloquence, the "officer-involved shooting," a politically useful bit of Newspeak that removes all blame, situating the violence in a space detached from time, space and, importantly, causality. As if the armed officer's presence were mere unfortunate happenstance.
hasn't exactly done a stellar job in covering it, as we have highlighted here at Down and Drought.
Beyond PLEA, prominent cops have linked cuts to staff and budgets to a rise in shootings, too. Jeff Hynes, a former Phoenix cop and current professor at ASU in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said in a March interview with Channel 5 that rising police violence ought to be blamed on "the reduction of police forces" and cut budgets.
Speaking to Channel 5, Hynes made the connection between current and future police violence and budget cuts clear: "You're going to see more assaults, more shootings. You're going to see more violence." He continued, "I truly believe it's a connection with the reduction of police forces around the country and taking your officers out of the community interaction area and putting them back into a patrol function."
Channel 5 neglected to tell its readers, however, that Hynes, a former member of the PPD's Professional Standards Bureau, which is responsible for internal investigations of use of force, was himself placed on the infamous Brady List, a federally-required database of officers identified, as the New Times reports, as having done something that "calls into question their honesty." Many of these officers are on the list for use of force complaints and violations.
PLEA has made officers available for media interviews, in which they plead their case. One of them, Officer Mike "Britt" London, spoke to ABC15, complaining (with a very spacious and modern kitchen in the background) about tight budgets at home as a result of tight budgets at City Hall. ABC15's interview ended with an ominous comment from London: "I would like to know why it came to this, why they have to take from those of us who protect them."
London ran successfully for a position of trustee in the union in 2011. While campaigning for that position, London opened his candidate statement in the association's newsletter with a quote: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”. He declared, "I have always liked this expression and I think it can be applied to many areas of life." London prides himself on his status as a "street cop" where, presumably, he puts his philosophy into practice. Later, London described policing (he is based out of the perpetually scandal-plagued Maryvale Precinct) as "a job that sometimes feels isolating and thankless."
Meanwhile, Mesa PD Chief Frank Milstead claimed in a May 2 interview with Channel 3 that he didn't really believe that shootings by officers were on the rise. "I don't know that there's a real spike in violence as some of these pieces of violence as these events have been close in proximity timewise, which makes it very apparent to us that it happens," Mistead said.
Interestingly, Milstead, who started the controversial and scandal-plagued Major Offenders Bureau, was speaking to the news in order to mark the addition of the name of Detective Hobbs (also from MOB), recently killed in a gun fight on duty, to the Phoenix Police Museum's fallen officer display.
We've written about the Hobbs case already, but since that article ran, we have come into possession of a new document regarding Hobbs' past history with use of force. As we disclosed last time, previous public records searches had raised some questions about Hobbs' career.
From our previous article:
Further research revealed a court document detailing an encounter that resulted in the imprisonment of a man who confronted Hobbs on a stakeout. Hobbs was in plain clothes in an unmarked car. Haidar Muhsin al Bazony, eventually convicted of aggravated assault in the incident, was responding to a call from his wife who was concerned about men lingering outside her townhouse.
Bazony, armed with a handgun and backed up by a friend he recruited to aid him, approached the car, peering inside. The document in question, an appeal, disputes the timing of the encounter as described by the state. The appeal claims that Hobbs pointed his gun at Bazony first not the other way around. Each testified in court that the other had aimed their weapons first. According to the appeal, the timing was critical to the conviction. Keep in mind that Hobbs wasn't dressed in a uniform and wasn't in a marked vehicle. The request was denied and Bazony was sentenced to the absolute minimum by the court.
This new document is a version of the previously-cited court filing, but this one includes the court's footnotes. These notes include one very important fact which was not included in the previous version that we had. The case rested on a very simple but hard to determine fact: which of the two men, Hobbs or Bazony, had drawn their weapon first.
As noted above, the previous version of this document, lacking the court's comments, had indicated a "he said, she said" kind of situation, as both men testified that the other had pulled his weapon first. However, the court notes reveal something else. Footnote number 5 states, "Hobbs denied taking out his sidearm at this time. Another member of the surveillance team reported that Hobbs admitted to taking his sidearm out when he lay down, but this statement was not introduced as evidence."
This is important because, according to the document, while Hobbs was warned of Bazony's approach, the surveillance team had not seen the weapon. Hobbs himself, again, according to the court record, claims he did not draw his weapon until he saw Bazony's weapon. This excluded testimony changes the nature of this case substantially, especially given that Bazony went to prison as a result. It also casts further doubt on Hobbs in general, beyond that which we already managed to discover through cursory Google searches (a technique apparently unknown to local reporters, or at least conveniently forgotten when police shootings occur).
These questionable incidents included a case where Hobbs ran over and killed a pedestrian at night and yet was not administered a DUI test. Court record searches revealed at least one lawsuit that led to a payout by Hobbs to the plaintiff in the amount of $6328.10. Hobbs was defended by the city in that case, leaving the impression that this was work-related.
But since the media has found itself incapable of challenging the myth of policing, or the powerful police unions that perpetuate it, it frees the cops up to trot out their fallen comrades when politically expedient to do so. Long time regular columnist for the Republic, EJ Montini ran an anonymous letter from a cop in his March 27th column. The officer denounced city officials playing politics with officers' lives.
When an officer is killed in the line of duty you have a congregation of politicians lined up saying how sad they are. A week later it is business as usual -- attacking public safety. What a bunch of hypocrites. I would rather them stay away. Every cop knows they don't mean it.Nevertheless, PLEA itself is quick to drag out the corpses of cops like Hobbs when they think it will score them points. In an editorial on its own website entitled, "City wants Cuts While Violence Increases" (sic), the union invokes his name while warning of the consequences of a "dangerously understaffed and demoralized police force." PLEA's position paper itself trots out Hobbs' corpse in its conclusion, a paragraph that uses the word "sacrifice" three times in the last two sentences.
While Valley cops may be confused about when it's appropriate to use a dead cop for political purposes, one thing they're sure of is that the residents of Greater Phoenix had better watch out. Take warning. The cops are looking out for number one this time around. Even your dinner isn't safe, and if they have to kill you in order to prove their point -- that they deserve a raise despite the fact that wages over all in Arizona for workers are still down since the recession -- then they will.
Maybe now's a good time to listen to Mesa Chief Milstead. Continuing his comments about policing, violence and risk in another interview, he put it this way: "We worry about putting people in the line of fire and in danger, but it is what we signed up for." Enough with the pity party, PPD. Stop complaining and take your hits like the tough, duty-bound toughies you claim to be. And most of all, stop killing us.
Read more Down and Drought coverage of Phoenix Police and the Major Offenders Bureau.