New interim Phoenix police chief shares plans for department moving forward

Chief Sullivan acknowledges the challenges he faces but said his experience aligns with what the department needs now.
Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 5:35 PM MST|Updated: Sep. 14, 2022 at 5:52 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - It’s day three for the City of Phoenix’s new interim police chief, Michael Sullivan. He’s assuming the position amid a Department of Justice investigation of the department, an officer shortage and violence against officers at an all-time high. Chief Sullivan acknowledges the challenges he faces but said his experience aligns with what the department needs now.

In a one-on-one interview with Chief Sullivan, Arizona’s Family asked what his first impression was. “This is a terrific department, it had already made a number of reforms that make it better,” Sullivan said. He comes to Phoenix from Baltimore, where he helped implement reforms following a DOJ investigation.

The DOJ is still investigating Phoenix regarding allegations of excessive use of force and abuse of homeless people. There are several lawsuits involving officers’ use of force and the decision to charge some protesters back in May 2020 as gang members. Additionally, there’s allegations on how officers cleared a homeless encampment downtown during the pandemic.

“The Phoenix Police Department needs to have a better transparency with the community, be able to sit down and to talk to people because there’s a lot of mistrust,” said Ben Taylor, a civil rights attorney. Taylor said he’s worked on several lawsuits against the Phoenix Police Department.

Arizona’s Family asked Sullivan how he planned to rebuild trust. “You know the Department of Justice highlighted areas that they were concerned with, those were areas that we need to be very much aware of, but when it comes to restoring trust it really is about us being accountable as an agency,” he replied.

He said his first priority will be responding to gun violence spikes. “Being able to put together a crime plan that really focusing on those most violent places, most violent people,” Sullivan said.

Taylor said he’s cautiously optimistic. However, he’ll be watching out for several key items. “To not be afraid to stand up to the union, to not be afraid to punish bad officers and do the right thing for the community,” Taylor said.

A spokeswoman for the department said there will be a national search for the permanent chief, and Sullivan can apply if he wants. Arizona’s Family asked if he wants the job. “Now that’s way too early to think about. I’m thinking about tomorrow. You know day 4,” Sullivan said.

The spokeswoman said it’s unclear when the DOJ investigation will be complete. They explain Chief Jeri Williams is still with the department and assisting in the transition. Her last day has not yet been announced.