An Outside Panel Will Probe Whether the PPD's Numbers on Kidnappings Were Cooked

Phoenix City Manager David Cavazos wants to rebuild public trust in the wake of allegations that police officials inflated border-related-kidnapping statistics to secure about $2.45 million in federal funding.

Cavazos' strategy has involved stripping Phoenix Public Safety Manager Jack Harris of his duties as police chief and assembling a panel of experts to review statistics that earned Phoenix its reputation as the country's kidnapping capital.

The city manager has pledged transparency as the committee investigates why police officials vigorously defended the faulty kidnapping count for months.

Jack Harris (left) was discredited and removed over faulty kidnapping statistics. Joe
Yahner (right) was named acting police chief.
SOCIAL EYE MEDIA
Jack Harris (left) was discredited and removed over faulty kidnapping statistics. Joe Yahner (right) was named acting police chief.

Assistant City Manager Ed Zuercher tells New Times that committee members include Karen Thoreson, president of Alliance for Innovation, who will serve as chairwoman; retired FBI Agent Larry McCormick; retired Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Cecil Patterson; retired Arizona Supreme Court Judge Michael D. Ryan; and Michael White, an associate professor at ASU's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Meanwhile, Harris has been moved to an office at Sky Harbor International Airport and will oversee security of municipal buildings, including City Hall, and citywide homeland security matters. He continues to draw his $193,377 annual salary. Harris' number-two, Executive Assistant Police Chief Joe Yahner, will serve as acting chief for the 3,000 rank-and-file cops in the Phoenix Police Department.

With the city-imposed gag order on Harris, it remains unclear why he so confidently defended the kidnapping statistics. Who was he relying on to provide him information about the police figures? Did he know the figures were inaccurate and continue to defend them because doing otherwise would have given credibility to his staunchest critics at the police union?

Union president Mark Spencer has been dogging Harris for years, primarily because Harris doesn't support Spencer's view that local cops should enforce federal immigration laws.

The police department released a list of 358 cases that were supposed to correlate to kidnappings handled by a squad of specialized police detectives.

New Times, the first media outlet to analyze police reports associated with the 2008 kidnapping statistics, revealed that only one in four reports were actually linked to the brutal style of kidnapping that involves human- and drug-smugglers moving across the U.S.-Mexico border ("Kidnapping Capital," February 17). The rest of the reports documented other crimes, including robberies, carjackings, or assaults.

Members of the union, the Police Law Enforcement Association, already had arrived at the same conclusion. And federal investigators with the Department of Justice collected copies of kidnapping police reports in January and are conducting their own review.

"It was unfortunate for me to learn . . . that some of the kidnapping statistics were mislabeled," Cavazos said during a press conference on March 3, when he announced Harris' reassignment and introduced Yahner as acting chief.

The admission that there were, indeed, problems with the kidnapping statistics came after more than six months of Cavazos and police brass' repeatedly telling elected officials, local news media, and the public that the figures had been thoroughly vetted and found valid.

Until that point, city officials dismissed critics — mostly members of the police union — who claimed that the city-reported statistics were intentionally exaggerated to win federal grant money.

Union president Spencer has said there was no need to inflate kidnapping numbers to prove there was a crisis in the Valley. Indeed, New Times reported on the brutal world of border-related kidnappings ("Seized," August 12) as part of Village Voice Media's "Amongst U.S." series.

Assistant City Manager Zuercher, who's overseeing the review process, says he doesn't believe fraud was involved in the reporting of faulty stats. City officials say they think the problems probably stemmed from mistakes or sloppy record keeping.

The statistics were first reviewed in August 2010 after police Sergeant Phil Roberts wrote a memo to the city's Integrity Committee saying the stats were inflated. This committee includes the city auditor, the city attorney, and a deputy city manager.

At that time, the PPD's Professional Standards Bureau said Roberts created his own definition for kidnapping rather than following that established by state law.

Though many of the 2008 reports labeled kidnappings by Phoenix police might fit the legal definition of kidnapping (knowingly restraining another person while committing a crime), it's important to note that city officials repeatedly said that nearly all the 358 abduction cases were connected to border-related crime.

That was the message from Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and Harris when they testified before federal lawmakers about Phoenix's need for grant money.

Some hail Roberts as a hero for exposing the bad stats, but city records show that he had a problem with the stats only after he was transferred out of the police unit that handled kidnappings.

In fact, in April 2008, Roberts told the media there were 359 kidnappings in that year. In an April 12, 2010 memo, Roberts wrote that there were about 300 kidnapping and 50 home-invasion investigations a year.

Then, after he was transferred, he started criticizing police officials over the allegedly fraudulent kidnapping figures. This came after he wanted to return to the kidnapping unit, and the unit's commander refused to let him back in.

Roberts, who's under investigation for alleged false allegations against the PPD, some of which involve his statements about the abduction stats, isn't allowed to discuss the case.

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17 comments
linkiss
linkiss

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FortuneTeller
FortuneTeller

In keeping with the tried and true American traditions of public mis-administration I predict:

The review panel report will be a puff-piece likely to have a few minor recommendations for improving the data collection process. The problems will likely be blamed on already overworked line-level staff while administrators try to create the spin of plausible deniability to divert the blame. Anyone already retired or soon to retire will be thrown under the bus. Maybe a couple retirements and transfers then - back to business as usual.

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MUMBLINMANDAVE
MUMBLINMANDAVE

GUESS IF UR DUMBASS WAS KIDNAPPED YOU WOULD BE LOOKIN AT ## WHAT A DUMBASS !!!!!

14401
14401

The important thing to remember here is that they A L L lie. It's just who gets the most out of the lie that counts with them. Who will be receiving the money for yet another panel or study, or commission, etc. Enough already you doedos's and bozoo's. Stop spending!!!!

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XSoldier
XSoldier

Great story, Monica.

I find it interesting that Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon can publicly support Public-Safety Manager Jack Harris, despite the allegations against him, but when it comes to the MCSO shurf, it is a whole different ballgame with Mayor Phil.

I also find it interesting that Phoenix City Manager David Cavazos wants the city to run an investigation on the same stats the USDOJ is already looking at. Why not just wait until the DOJ is done? It's possible that the city would only achieve the same results as the DOJ and it would be a complete waste of time and money.

What if Harris didn't cook the numbers? Harris could sue the Phoenix police, Cavazos, the USDOJ, the city of Phoenix, Maricopa County, and Arizona.....

Then again, if Harris DID cook the books, then he and Mayor Phil should both be run out of town by a screaming mob with pitchforks and torches. Lying to Congress can get your ass indicted. Just look at Roger Clemens.

I can't wait to see what the DOJ says about all this.....

JesterJackson
JesterJackson

People around here are too lazy to run these fools out with pitchforks. Look how long people have been putting up with Arpaio and his bullshit. You have to wait for them to die of old age in order to replace them. They keep getting reelected.

AlwaysBlameOthers
AlwaysBlameOthers

SXolder,Unlikely that Harris will be held criminally liable for lying to congress. It will be difficult for prosecutors to prove intent to defraud - although he did go on tv and say he would do it again. Harris can plead that he was just a dumbass mouthpiece for the statistics that were given to him by the lower level staff who will ultimately be crucified.

XSoldier
XSoldier

As I said, just look at Roger Clemens..... He had no "intent to defraud" and Congress indicted him on 21 counts of perjury.

Also, as chief of police, Harris is responsible for the numbers his agency is reporting. Similar to the MCSO shurf, our delusional, corrupt, 4-star wearing top constable

SmokeAndMirrors
SmokeAndMirrors

XSoldier,Solid observations. City management wants to get out in front of the DOJ. In case the DOJ report turns out bad then City management can pretend the DOJ report is "old news" and pretend that the problem has already been addressed. They are clever at maneuvering and trying to shape public opinion in advance.

T1ger
T1ger

It's sad that the Michael Johnson episode be continually looked at as police misconduct. When there is a fire in a building, the fire department is there, the police are there, it doesn't matter who you are, unless you are supposed to be in the building or immediately around it, then stay out of the way of the professionals. Johnson had no business being there and was out of line and Authenment took him into custody as he was trained and expected to do.

Johnson's actions that caused him to be handcuffed gave merit to him remaining so for the duration obviously needed. He was in the wrong and was fortunate he was not booked into jail, as perhaps he should have been. He put himself in the position he was in and was ultimately given preferential treatment, which was the real crime.

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Anon
Anon

While you're investigating that grant, how about the stats for the $23 plus million plus Federal Stimulus money given the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission -- made up of all law enforcement and prosecutors? Nothing for the people who need to protect themselves from abuse of power and overzealous prosecution. How does the Maricopa County sheriff get away with not allowing an audit?

How about the stats for the $50,000,000 Federal Stimulus money given Corrections/prison growth, while education is going down the tubes. Or does do the "leaders" want an uneducated mass because it's easier to steamroll over them. Who are the customers for the jails and prisons?

The outcry against Harris should be directed also on the Federal stimulus money going to the mass industrial prison complex Arizona has become at the expense of the people and education and Arizona's future. Wake up people. Demand the stats and an independent taxpayer oversight investigation on all those receiving $2 million and more. They are lining their pockets at the expense of the people.

Cajungman
Cajungman

YEP fat joe getting away with all the money and we keep paying for his stupit acts

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