Former Phoenix Police Chief Danny Garcia fought the law, and the law won. And too often, the law in this town is spelled P-L-E-A, the acronym for the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the union that "represents" around 2,600 rank-and-file Phoenix cops.
I write "represents" in quotation marks because, though PLEA is required by city ordinance to be the bargaining unit for all Phoenix officers below the rank of sergeant, only about 2,000 are dues-paying members.
Even fewer bother to vote in PLEA's leadership elections. According to PLEA's own website, just "253 valid ballots" were counted in the 2013 PLEA election of officers, which included current president, the ever-dyspeptic Joe Clure.
So it's a serious mistake to blame all Phoenix cops for PLEA's right-wing politics, its overt nativism and bigotry, its parasitic consumption of city resources, and its our-way-or-the-highway attitude toward whomever happens to be the current police chief.
Both City Manager Ed Zuercher and Mayor Greg Stanton would have the public believe that Garcia was fired December 18 because he defied an order from Zuercher not to hold a press conference.
That same day, a clearly nervous Zuercher denied that Garcia's ouster already was in the works or that it had anything to do with PLEA and the Phoenix Police Sergeants and Lieutenants Association's ongoing vote of no confidence against the chief.
"The union issue is not at issue here," Zuercher told reporters.
But a few moments later, Zuercher admitted that he had ordered Garcia not to hold a press conference because it would further inflame the chief's ongoing conflict with PLEA.
"We . . . need to work together in reaching out between labor and management . . . not through press conferences, but through sitting down together in dialogue," Zuercher said.
Considering that Clure already had declared during one media event that PLEA could not get along with Garcia, referring to Garcia as an "authoritarian" and a "megalomaniac," Zuercher's call for civil dialogue is like a proponent of Gandhi-style non-violence, daisy in hand, approaching a knife-wielding ISIS militant.
See, Garcia's depiction of PLEA's gunning for him was 100 percent accurate.
In his presser, Garcia described the vote of no confidence as "a tactic, in this case, to terminate this chief."
He pointed out that PLEA and PPSLA started the vote on November 17 but that the announcement of the results kept getting delayed.
Garcia claimed this was because not enough cops were responding, and that union reps were calling cops, trying to get them to send in their ballots.
Considering that only about 10 percent of cops bothered to vote in the most recent PLEA election, I can buy that.
Anyway, a union no-confidence vote means diddly-squat. After all, how many people actually like their boss?
The chief also talked about how he had beefed up discipline, tried to change things, make officers more accountable.
Garcia had taken heat from PLEA for getting rid of a uniform option that included wearing cargo pants and a polo shirt with a PPD logo.
The union also didn't like the fact that more officers were getting dismissed for DUIs, improper use of force, and lack of respect for the public.
(Interestingly, in the January 2012 issue of PLEA's official magazine, one article talked of a "rash" of DUI's among off-duty PPD officers, and that "one of the running jokes going around refers to having ignition interlock devices installed on patrol cars.")
In fact, PLEA's hostility to Garcia began not too long after the Texan, a former assistant police chief with the Dallas Police Department, was sworn in as the PPD's new chief in May 2012.
E-mails from PLEA officials, made public during the course of a lawsuit against the union brought by the Goldwater Institute, paint part of this picture.
In one July 2012 correspondence, Will Buividas, PLEA's treasurer, delights in the casual way union vice president Ken Crane addresses the chief in an official complaint.
"I like [how] you call him Danny in the letter," writes Buividas. "He needs to know we [are] equal partners and he is not above PLEA!"
In an e-mail chain from August 2012, Buividas, PLEA secretary Frank Marino, and others kvetch about Garcia's supposed meeting with members of a rival cop union, the Fraternal Order of Police.
"I have also heard that the chief has been hanging up at the FOP hall recently," notes Buividas, adding, "We need to verify this and then break it off in his ass."
Marino chimed in: "Might need to hire Inch High Private Eye to start tailing him as he goes on his escapades and catch him short."
Obviously, Marino was joking about having this city's chief of police tailed like a criminal. Inch High Private Eye is an old cartoon character, you see. Still, this was just a couple of months into Garcia's tenure.
Lefties love to hate on the Goldwater Institute, but in the case of its lawsuit against the cop union, Goldwater is doing the work of the Lord.
PLEA is a private entity bankrolled in large part by you and me, taxpayers of this city.
As part of its Memorandum of Understanding with Phoenix, the city had been obligated to pay for six full-time PLEA positions, cops who act as PLEA's officers.
The 2012-2014 memorandum also authorized the following: a bank of almost 1,900 hours to be used in any way PLEA wishes, an additional 500 hours for a lobbyist, 960 overtime hours for the six fully funded union reps, and paid time off from ordinary cop work for 42 part-time union reps, so they can sit in on disciplinary meetings and the like.
The Goldwater Institute has argued that these provisions of the memorandum violate the Arizona Constitution's gift clause, which severely restricts payments of public funds to private entities, such as PLEA.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper has agreed with the Goldwater Institute, noting that the cost of all these state-funded union reps and their overly generous piggy bank of hours is a whopping $1.7 million for the entire, two year 2012 MOU.
So in 2013, Cooper enjoined, for the second time, the city from paying for any PLEA work, other than that which serves a public purpose. This has resulted in a cut from six full-time union positions to three.
If you ask me, it's three too many.
The judge found that PLEA had zero accountability in how it used its taxpayer-funded largesse, that the city received nothing in compensation, and, to the point of this column, that PLEA used these taxpayer-funded man-hours to "foster an adversarial relationship with the city."
Cooper wrote that PLEA used its "release time," as these compensated hours are called, to "openly and publicly criticize the Chief of Police," to "solicit grievances" from union members, to lobby for legislation that the city opposes, and to "direct members not to comply with supervisors' orders with which PLEA disagrees."
Though the judge didn't mention it, the Goldwater Institute observed in one motion that during MOU negotiations, PLEA "made threats to strike," and "engage in work slowdown," though police officers cannot strike according to the Phoenix city charter.
Following a civil trial in late 2013, Cooper declared the release time provisions at stake to be unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction against them.
Currently, both PLEA and the Goldwater Institute are awaiting an Arizona Appeals Court ruling on Cooper's decision.
There is no doubt that PLEA is politically powerful. The union donates to politicians, and both Democrats and Republicans vie for the union's endorsement.
Nor is this the first time that PLEA's ridden a chief out of town on a hot rail. In 2011, it was Public Safety Manager and Police Chief Jack Harris, who eventually resigned over a controversy concerning kidnapping stats.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
In his press conference, Garcia claimed he was hired to be an agent of change, but PLEA was an obstacle.
"Our city management needs to decide whether the police department is to be run by the unions or by the police chief," Garcia said at one point.
Given current events, I'd say the city has made its decision. A cowardly one, at that.