Independent panel formed to review '08 Phoenix kidnapping statistics

Posted: Updated:

PHOENIX – The Phoenix city manager has commissioned a panel of independent experts to look into 2008 kidnapping statistics that were allegedly inflated by the Phoenix Police Department to obtain $1.7 million a federal grant.

According to a memo from Assistant City Manager Ed Zuercher to City Manager David Cavazos, the panel will be made up of five people -- Larry McCormick, retired FBI Special Agent in Charge (Kansas City); Hon. Cecil Patterson, Judge (ret.), Arizona Court of Appeals; Hon. Michael D. Ryan, Justice (ret.), Arizona Supreme Court; Karen Thoreson, Alliance for Innovation president and former Tucson assistant city manager; and Michael White, Ph.D., an associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Thoreson will serve as the panel chairwoman.

The newly formed panel has six main tasks.

First, it will review the 2008 kidnapping statistics in question. It will also review the process that was used to validate the numbers.

From there, it will take a look at every grant application that cited the 2008 kidnapping statistics.

In addition to the 2008 numbers that at the center of the controversy, the panel will also take a look at statistics from 2007, 2009, and 2010.

After determining if a more in-depth review of other statistical reporting from the Phoenix Police Department is warranted, the panel will make recommendations on any changes it deems necessary.

The panel will hold its first meeting on March 25, and is slated to submit a progress report to Cavazos by May 3.

Initially, the Phoenix Police Department reported more than 350 kidnappings in 2008. Based on that number, the department and many politicians labeled Phoenix as the “kidnapping capital of America.”

Supposedly, Mexico City was the only city in the entire world that had more kidnappings. The department later said as many as 100 of the reports included in that initial number should not have been counted.

U.S. Justice Department auditors also are reviewing the numbers submitted by the department to determine whether it deserved the $1.7 million grant. In addition, the city has frozen any spending of the grant money, which would support a squad that investigates kidnappings.

Amid the review of the 2008 kidnapping statistics, Public Safety Manager Jack Harris, formerly the chief of police, was reassigned. Harris retained his title and duties as public safety manager, but he no longer manages the daily operations of the Phoenix Police Department.

While the independent panel conducts its review, interim Police Chief Joe Yahner, who was the executive assistant chief, will run the department.