Interim Phoenix Police Chief selected as Chief Jeri Williams prepares for retirement

Michael Sullivan, who currently serves as a Deputy Police Commissioner in Baltimore, Maryland, has been chosen to lead the police department temporarily.
Published: Jul. 29, 2022 at 11:52 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Phoenix officials have selected a new interim police chief who will take over when Chief Jeri Williams steps down in September, according to a statement released Friday.

Michael Sullivan, who currently serves as a Deputy Police Commissioner in Baltimore, Maryland, has been chosen to lead Arizona’s largest police department temporarily. Sullivan will take over on September 12 when Chief Williams retires. City officials expect Sullivan will remain in the position for one to two years, allowing time for the city to find a more permanent candidate.

“In the search for an interim police chief, it was my priority to identify a leader with the qualifications to guide the department through the Department of Justice investigation and propel the department forward,” said City Manager Jeff Barton. “Sullivan brings 27 years of law enforcement experience to the table, and he has led police reform efforts for major cities. His experience working in collaboration with communities, the DOJ, federal court, and more gives me confidence he has the experience necessary to step into the interim Phoenix Police Chief role during this important time.”

The new chief will have a lot on his plate when he takes over the department, including an active investigation by the Department of Justice for alleged civil rights violations. Because the position is temporary, Sullivan’s hiring by the city manager was not subject to council approval.

“I think the decision to bring somebody in on a temporary basis to deal primarily with the Department of Justice investigation is very political,” said former Mesa police officer Bill Richardson. He is critical of the City bringing Sullivan in a temporary position for one to two years.

Richardson said dealing with the DOJ investigation is a full-time job, with many more responsibilities and duties a police chief has. He thinks they should be two different positions. “There’s no permanent leadership. There’s nobody there to stabilize the organization,” Richardson said.

Former Salt River police chief Stan Kephart said this all feels premature and feels an internal officer would have served better in an interim role until the results, problems, and findings of the investigation are brought to light. “I think Mr. Sullivan should be a person who should consider applying to the position full time, but I don’t think he should be an interim. I think the interim should be somebody who knows how the department works,” Kephart said.

Both experts said confidence has been broken and needs to be rebuilt. “Are you going to find out who broke into my house so I can sleep at night? Are you going to find out who raped my daughter? Are you going to find out who killed my son? That’s how you get community trust,” Richardson said.

Arizona’s Family asked the City of Phoenix if they considered bringing on Sullivan to focus on the DOJ investigation while also looking to hire a chief to focus on other things like homicide solve rates, sex assault kit backlogs, etc. They told us no — the city manager sought a candidate with the qualifications necessary to guide the department through the DOJ investigation while still leading the department forward.