The men of the Phoenix Police Department's Career Criminal Squad will be able to continue their work, investigating violent, street-level hate crimes according to City Manager David Cavazos.
The squad, which also investigates murder-for-hire and other cases, was supposed to be disbanded as of this Monday, officially for budget reasons. But Cavazos told me this morning that he's halted the disbandment due to the concerns of the community.
"That squad will be intact until further notice," stated Cavazos, during a telephone conference call that included Assistant Chief Joe Yahner, the number two man at the PPD.
Cavazos explained that he'd actually made the decision over ten days ago, and had communicated it to Public Safety Manager Jack Harris, among others.
Yesterday, in response to a question from Phoenix City Councilwoman Thelda Williams, Cavazos made the same assurances regarding the squad, he told me.
With a butcher's blade hanging over the CCS for months now, two men -- a sergeant and a detective -- have already transferred out to other units. But three detectives remain, and Cavazos insisted they would not be asked to seek other positions.
"Nobody's going to ask them to leave," said Cavazos. "Nobody's gonna tell them to leave. If they decide to leave on their own initiative for whatever reason, that's their prerogative."
That's a good thing for citizens, as hate crime in the city was up nearly 30 percent in 2009. The year before that, hate crimes were up 11.25 percent. CCS is the only squad dedicated to investigating the violent stabbings, beatdowns and shootings that contribute to those overall totals.
A slight glitch in the City Manager's message seemed to occur when I asked Assistant Chief Yahner if Cavazos' decision had been relayed to the detectives in CCS.
Yahner stated that CCS detectives had been told their squad had been identified as a potential cut, and that the department would be "moving positions out of that squad back to patrol over the course of the next several months."
When I observed the contradiction and noted that these men did not yet know if they were staying or going, Cavazos restated his decision to save the remnants of the CCS, and asked that Yahner put something in writing to that effect and send it to the squad's commander.
Cavazos promised me a copy of the memo by the end of the week. (Please see update below.)
This afternoon, I learned that the men of CCS were informed today that their squad's not going anywhere. The two who had opted out in the face of the disbandment have been offered their old jobs back.
I am heartened that the squad that cracked the Chad Kerns case, helped secure a conviction on murder-for-hire against Cigar Warehouse owner Dimitri Rozenman, and has put the boot (metaphorically) to so many neo-Nazis and hate crime perpetrators operating in the Valley, will continue.
This will no doubt be greeted as good news by the organizations and community leaders who've spoken out in support of the squad, including the Arizona ADL, the Phoenix police union PLEA, and Phoenix activist Ann Malone of Require the Prior.
Still, Cavazos did not make any guarantees for how long the squad would remain, only that it's safe for now.
"It could be a year," he said. "It could be two years, it could be ten years, it could be [that if] something really bad happens --- let's say shared revenue comes in and they want to cut $200 million from revenue in a month -- what do I do? You've got to make tough decisions, right? That's why I can't make promises."
But for now, CCS detectives can breathe a little easier as they do their dangerous and important work. Let's hope they can keep investigating for as long as the City Manager will allow.
UPDATE: Though I don't have the letter from Assistant Chief Yahner mentioned above, the Phoenix City Manager's office has sent me a memo dated yesterday from Assistant City Manager Ed Zuercher to Phoenix PD Public Safety Manager Jack Harris.
The document, which you can read here, asks that Harris undo the redeployment of the Career Criminal Squad, and indicates that the men who have left the unit will be offered the chance to return, if they want.
It's significant that the City Manager's office put the request in writing, because of the disconnect between Yahner and City Manager Cavazos detailed in this blog post.
The last sentence, "Thank you for your cooperation with this request," indicates that it is more of an order than a request, and that too is a good thing, if we are to retain any measure of civilian control over the City of Phoenix Police Department.
Stephen is a staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.