Phoenix police seeking to add over 30 civilian positions amid staff shortage

Phoenix Police are asking for approval from the City Manager to add 33 civilian positions to their department amid a severe staffing shortage.
Published: Mar. 1, 2022 at 5:07 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – Phoenix Police are asking for approval from the City Manager to add 33 civilian positions to their department amid a severe staffing shortage.

“The reality is we need help with all of our positions, and our civilian positions are critical to sworn folks doing theirs,” said Michael Kurtenbach, the assistant police chief, in an interview last week regarding the reallocation of officers.

Last week the department announced they would be moving some detectives from specialty units back to street patrol to help with the staffing shortages. Phoenix Police had 274 officers leave in 2021.

It’s written in the City of Phoenix agenda, “Due to current and future sworn staffing shortages, it is critical of the Department to identify job functions that are currently being performed by sworn personnel, that can be completed by civilians.”

“We go to non-in-progress calls. Mostly property crimes, stolen vehicles, burglaries, commercial, residential, lot of thefts, shopliftings,” explained Shannon O’Leary. “Anything that’s not in progress that’s not going to require an actual sworn officer, that’s going to be the type of calls we go on.”

O’Leary has been a civilian investigation specialist with the Mesa Police Department for eight years. Mesa police adopted a civilian program in 2009.

“The patrol officers, they love it. It helps them out so much to where they can focus on a little bit higher crime areas,” O’Leary said. “They don’t have to now worry about these property calls because they have us to take care of that call, so they absolutely love that we are out there with them and handle it and take care of them.”

O’Leary said she had to go through about 2-3 months of training. “We learn title 13, the criminal codes. We learn about report writing; we learn obviously the radio codes because we’re on the radio just like the officers,” O’Leary explained.

While the job description may be different from department to department, O’Leary said it’s evident how beneficial the civilian positions are to the officers and the community.

“The property calls when there’s no threat or anything, sometimes those calls for services, those victims, can wait up to 8 hours for a patrol officer if there’s a lot of high priority calls they’re getting dispatched to,” O’Leary said. “They’re not waiting very long. We’re able to get there and provide them with a very high level of customer service, take whatever happened to them very seriously; we’re able to provide them a lot more information that sometimes the patrol officers they’re running and gunning and need to get to where they are. Their level of stress is way different than ours as far as types of calls they’re going to take.”

Phoenix Police say they are asking for 25 civilian investigator positions and eight police assistants. The civilian investigators would support the Violent crimes, Family Investigations, Property Crimes, and Drug Enforcement Bureaus. Police assistants will respond to calls for service not requiring the presence of a sworn officer, assist with civil traffic collisions, provide traffic control, and respond to misdemeanor crimes with no follow-ups.

Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) released a statement about the proposal:

“The Phoenix Police Department is facing a critical staffing shortage that is impacting every unit within the Department. While we appreciate the effort to add more civilian positions during this staffing crisis, the Phoenix City Council needs to adopt a long-term plan to properly fund and staff sworn police officers in the Phoenix Police Department.”

Phoenix Police says they already have budget funding for these civilian positions. The City Council will discuss this agenda item during Wednesday’s meeting.