Judicial Watch Group Targets Double-Dipping by Phoenix Police Chief

Judicial Watch, a non-profit group based in Washington D.C., wants the state Attorney General's Office to find a way to reduce the paycheck of Police Chief Jack Harris.

The group wrote a letter to Attorney General Terry Goddard recently, asking him to file a lawsuit against the Phoenix Police Pension Board in order to stop Harris (pictured at right) from receiving any more pension payments on top of his regular salary. The firm says it's representing a group of concerned citizens, including three "active duty or retired City of Phoenix police officers." If Goddard doesn't sue to stop the payments, Judicial Watch's clients will, the letter threatens.

As New Times' columnist Stephen Lemons reported two years ago, Harris enjoys a $184,350-a-year salary, plus an annual retirement benefit payment of about $90,000 a year.

It's called double-dipping -- the practice of retiring from one job in order to start collecting a pension, then getting rehired to do the same job. After the outcry in the 1990s over the double-dip by Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott, the State Legislature made the practice illegal for those wishing to draw from the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. But the law's a bit squishy in places:

For the purposes of this subsection, "same position" means the member is in a position where the member performs duties and exercises authority that are the same duties that were performed and the same authority that was exercised by the member before the member's retirement.

The pension board takes it a bit further, requiring that the new job is "substantially and materially different than the old job." Yet the board rubber-stamped Harris' appointment two years ago as the city's new "public safety manager."

In what may have been a reaction to critics, the city changed its rules in January so that someone who retired would have to wait two months before being rehired to a similar job. That changed nothing for Harris, though.

Judicial Watch notes that Harris still wears the uniform of the chief, refers to himself as chief and has the same duties and responsibilities that he had as chief before he retired. The letter also claims that in May, City of Phoenix Manager Frank Fairbanks "officially confirmed that Chief Harris is the Chief..."

A group of citizens and members of a Phoenix police union threatened in June to take their concerns about Harris to someone who cared -- looks like they found that someone. But when the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association is involved, that means politics. PLEA and Harris haven't played nice lately, and the union could just be using Judicial Watch as a tool to achieve its own goals.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.