Meeting Phoenix Police Union Request Could Cost $300 Million

Published: Thursday, October 12, 2017 - 6:57am
Updated: Sunday, October 15, 2017 - 10:12pm
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(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
Phoenix Law Enforcement Association President Ken Crane addresses the Phoenix Public Safety Subcommittee.

If Phoenix wants to hire enough police officers to satisfy the union, it faces some tough choices – either cut budgets for other city departments or raise taxes. Those options were laid out during Wednesday’s Public Safety Subcommittee meeting.

The Numbers

When the fiscal year started on July 1, the city reported 2,810 filled sworn positions. By next June, the city expects to reach its goal of 3,125 sworn officers.

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), which represents officers, has been pushing the city to have a staffing ratio of 2.5 officers per 1,000 residents. Currently, Phoenix has about 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents and by next summer it expects to be around 2 officers per 1,000.

The ratio of 2.5 per 1,000 is generally considered the national average. However, the rate is lower in the western region, which is where the FBI puts Arizona. In the western region, the average staffing ratio is 1.8 officers per 1,000 and among agencies across Arizona it’s 1.9 per 1,000.

The Public Safety Subcommittee asked staff to figure out what it would cost to achieve the ratio of 2.5 officers per 1,000, which would involve hiring an additional 837 officers.

Based on staff research, hiring the extra officers would cost $125 million. But, that would be just the start.

The officers need things like computers, desks and support staff. The estimate includes needed repairs at police headquarters –it’s more than 40 years old – and also includes an option for building a new police headquarters and booking facility.

The total police cost is estimated to be between $60 and $175 million.

Other Department Costs

And, there’s more. Staff came up with estimates for three other departments: law, court and public works.

"It’s the crime scene folks, it’s the lab folks, it’s the communication operators, dispatchers into the judges, hearing officers, prosecutors, clerks,” said Jeff Barton, the city’s budget and research director. "On the public works side it’s the staff that maintain the facilities, the staff that maintains the police officers’ vehicles.”  

When staff added all elements it came up with a total estimated cost between $202 and $317 million.

The Budget Department said there are no existing funds to cover the expenses, so they presented two tax options: raising the local sales tax from 0.68 percent to 1.09 percent and reinstating the food tax between 7.7 and 12.3 percent.

Councilwoman Thelda Williams expressed concerns. “You know my fear is when we do that is one, the reaction from the food tax last time was not very positive. And two, it tends to drive people to other cities and especially any new companies coming in look at that as part of where they’re going to locate their business and it’s definitely the consumers where they’re going to shop,” Williams said.

The president of PLEA, Ken Crane, said rising crime rates and response times also impact business decisions.

“Public safety is expensive,” he said. “We know it takes 70 to 75 percent of a general fund of a city to pay for cops and firefighters. It’s not a newsflash. It’s that way around the country. There’s a term for that. It’s a technical labor term. It’s the cost of doing business. It’s just the way it is. Everyone wants platinum, top shelf, highly-trained public safety. It’s just that nobody wants to pay for it.”

This discussion also attracted the attention of Steve Beuerlein, president of United Phoenix Firefighters Local 493. He said staffing is a concern for them, too and asked the subcommittee to look into it.

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