Police: Squeaky Wheels Get Grease


When it comes to police attention in the nation’s fifth largest city, Pierson Place Historic District President Charley Jones may have said it best during a February neighborhood meeting: “The Squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

Jones was hardly implying that Phoenix Police don’t try their best, but he did touch a truth about how modern police patrol large urban areas.

“Police response and services are based on calls for service,” he said. “Get the calls on the board and that’s how we get more police resources on the board.”

Mayor Greg Stanton, one of about 40 who attended Pierson’s Feb. 21 meeting at Fame Cafe on Central Avenue, shook his head in agreement as Jones encouraged residents to report anything they find suspicious.

“These are pretty good times for our City,” Stanton said. “Our population is actually increasing for the first time in 30 years.”

Stanton explained that Arizona cities compete for state funding for police and other essential services based on population. Phoenix will be hiring 300 more officers in the next few years.

“Our police department hasn’t hired officers in 6 years,” he said. “This will be the largest police hiring in years.”

Though Phoenix overall saw a drop in property crimes in 2017, violent crimes raised slightly, what police theorize may be due to more aggressive reporting from their own officers.

“If you want to fight crime, you can’t just sit around and wait for calls,” said Desert Horizon Precinct Commander Gabriel Lopez. “We want to prevent crime.”

Phoenix P.D. makes statistics available online, but very little of what officers actually do gets reflected in the data.

Rather, the numbers indicate the approximate location and trends of calls for service – usually 911 calls – and don’t always include arrests or ongoing investigations.

Nor does data reflect who reported the alleged crime (civilians or officers), dispositions of calls, convictions or dismissals of charges.

Still, the numbers are how the brass begin to actively target what may be ongoing problems.

Part 1 – A Huge Patrol Area:

Several weeks before Jones’ meeting, T.M.L. attended the annual “State of the Precinct” presentation for the Desert Horizon police district, the southern border of which includes Pierson, and terminates at the Grand Canal that bisects “Melrose.”

Desert Horizon itself is larger than most American municipalities, encompassing over 70 square miles and approximately 12% of Phoenix. According to P.P.D., about 250k people live in the precinct, amounting to roughly 17% of the city’s total population.

Like a backward “L” in a game of Tetris, Desert Horizon blankets most of North Central and Northeast Phoenix, stretching all the way up to the 101 and continuing east of the S.R. 51 to the Scottsdale border.

At any given moment there are 32 police officers assigned to patrol Desert Horizon. Two teams rotate between three, 10-hour shifts within a 4-day work week. The schedule allows overlap for officers to be lent to other precincts, special assignments (think bike squads), pre-scheduled events, and to testify in court.

Of Desert Horizon’s 268 sworn officers, 193 (72%) are assigned to different geographic patrol squads, while the remaining include administrators, investigators, school resource officers, or various other specific duties. Most clerical duties are handled by police-aids or unsworn civilians.

Patrol squads are further sub-divided into “beats” which can range from half-a-mile to several miles in size. Most Desert Horizon officers drive alone, and patrol several beats in one shift.

Lopez said he tries to have at least two officers in one beat at any given time, rather than one officer in each beat all the time.

Whencalls require multiple officers, pretty much any call that puts an officer directly in danger, several beat patrols will be delayed.

Part 2 – Getting to Know the Numbers:

According to Lopez, Phoenix P.D. Ranks police call priorities more or less as follows:

  1. A life threatening emergency of any kind, or crime in progress.
  2. A crime has recently been committed or there is an urgent threat to safety.
  3. A crime has been committed but there is little chance of apprehending the suspects without investigation, and all other requests for police assistance.

In a city of one-and-half-million people, in which people call 911 for all sorts of reasons, the demand for response adds up. “This is why it sometimes takes 3 hours for a police car to come after your house has been burglarized,” Lopez said matter-of-factly. “It just all depends on who has done what to each other that day.”

According to Lopez, in 2017 there was a call for police service every 3.5 minutes in Desert Horizon, a 12% increase from 2016. This included calls from the public and internal department requests (other officers and command.)

Lopez reported the most common calls in Desert Horizon were as follows:

  1. Welfare check (a citizen concerned about someone.)
  2. Trespassing (someone on a property against the will of owner/occupant.)
  3. Suspicious person (a general, often vague concern about someone else.)
  4. Security Alarm (Lopez estimated about 80% are false.)
  5. Fights (He did not specify if these included domestic disturbances.)

Lopez said the average response time for priority 1 calls in his precinct just under 7 minutes and about 20 seconds longer than the citywide average. “Of course, we want to get that down even further,” he said. “It’s important to remember (Desert Horizon) is a part of the citywide average as well.” The average for priority 2 calls was 19:35 and priority 3, 43:55. Lopez did not provide 2016’s averages or medians, but did report the following data for Desert Horizon:

  • 6.7% decrease in property crimes (4% decrease citywide.)
  • 2% decrease in burglaries (theft of an unoccupied building.)
  • 3.4% decrease in homicides.
  • 1.7% increase in robberies (theft from a person or occupied building.)
  • 7.3% increase in fights or violent public disturbances.
  • 24.3% increase in aggravated assaults.
  • 5800 people were taken to jails by Phoenix Police citywide (including warrants.)

Officers operate with discretion to detain or arrest citizens. Lopez said he and other commanders are encouraging patrols to engage and report more suspicious and violent behavior they see on the street, especially in areas with high reports of crime. “There’s a time and a place for arresting people,” he said. “Sometimes people need to go to jail.”

Lopez said he was proud to report that none of the 79 reported incidents of “use of force” in 2017 were officers in his precinct. He said there were no officer involved shootings last year in Desert Horizon.