Phoenix police officers caught playing cards on duty

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- On top of a vacant parking garage in downtown Phoenix, two uniformed police officers are sitting in a marked SUV.

The parking garage at Fourth and Jackson streets is in the shadow of Chase Field and a high-rise condominium building where several residents have been wondering for months what those two officers have been doing.

Downtown Phoenix is a busy place to be, particularly on game nights when the Arizona Diamondbacks or Phoenix Suns are playing.

To handle the crowds, the Phoenix Police Department has a special squad called the Downtown Operations Unit, which is responsible for coordinating traffic and keeping pedestrians safe.

But on nights when there are no games being played, people living in the 23-story condominium building have been seeing one particular police unit. Witnesses told 3 On Your Side the officers park on top of the garage on a regular basis and sit quietly in their police car.

"It's kind of creepy," a resident said. "They just park up there and their lights are off. You just really don't know."

Residents claim the police officers sit there for a couple hours at a time and have been doing so for nearly a year.

"I got home one time a little bit after 7 p.m. and they left a little bit after 10 p.m.," another resident said.

He said he was so curious to know what the officers were doing, he purchased a pair of binoculars and could not believe what he saw.

"They started shuffling up the cards and started playing and, like I said, sit back, smoke cigars and play cards for hours," he said.

On March 26, 3 On Your Side's cameras captured two officers playing cards and smoking stogies. Residents said they arrived home about 8:30 p.m. to find the police vehicle parked on top of the garage and it didn't leave until after 10:15 p.m.

Cameras captured the police officers doing the same thing March 30, which residents said went on for at least two hours.

It appears to be a routine. After the sun goes down on nights without professional sporting events, the officers park in virtually the same spot and place a small playing table between them. Then they light up and play cards inside the SUV.

"I think that it's our taxpaying money and they're sitting up there for hours playing cards," said the resident who had purchased the binoculars.

He's not the only one concerned about wasted tax dollars.

"It's shocking, disappointing, just totally bizarre to me," Tim Hogan said when asked for his reaction to the video.

Hogan heads up the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, a nonprofit government watchdog organization. He watched 3 On Your Side's video and said it speaks volumes, particularly when the city of Phoenix is in a budget crunch and the police department is demanding more money.

"As a taxpayer, I think we have a right to demand accountability, especially when some pretty essential services are being considered for the chopping block," he said.

On April 7, 3TV cameras again captured the police SUV parked on top of the garage but this time, 3 On Your Side wanted an explanation.

The officers told 3 On Your Side's Gary Harper that they were about to go on a call they had just received.

When confronted about the card playing and cigar smoking, they said, "We take a break up here every once in a while."

Then when asked about the break taking three hours, they stated again that they had to respond to a call.

Phoenix police officers are allowed to combine their lunch and one break for a total of 45 minutes off.

"I think it's difficult to probably describe but I think that the word that comes to mind is embarrassing," said Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Trent Crump. "People expect more from us than that."

The officers were immediately placed on paid administrative leave for an internal affairs investigation.

In the meantime, Phoenix is dealing with a $38 million deficit and the police department wants more funding.

"That does not reflect the great work that our police officers do, but when we have that information we need to follow up and we need to investigate and review it," Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher said after reviewing the video. "I'd also tell people when they see that, don't wait for months to let us know."