Feathered Bastard

Mark Spencer's Spin Machine, and KPHO's Flubbed Segment on Police Supes

I have praised Channel 5/KPHO's reporters and producers in the past. I consider them colleagues. Not necessarily drinking-buddies. (Yet.) But I have fun chatting with them when I see them in the midst of the media scrum.

Still, I wonder about the station's pro-PLEA spin, PLEA being the powerful Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, a police union that represents the rank and file of the Phoenix Police Department.

PLEA is at constant war with PPD management, particularly Public Safety Manager (read, "Police Chief") Jack Harris. This is obvious from PLEA's Web site and from PLEA President Mark Spencer's obsession with taking Harris down. That PLEA has allies at KPHO is evidenced by KPHO's occasional aping of PLEA's line on the PPD.

Without casting aspersions on the reportage of Channel 5 journalist Donna Rossi, a former cop herself and currently a pavement-pounding Fourth Estate-r, I found odd her recent segment on a survey taken by the Phoenix Police Sergeants and Lieutenants Association, the union representing Phoenix cops of the ranks mentioned. 

At least, I did after I read the "report" itself, which is linked at the Web sites for KPHO and PLEA.

PLEA put its usual anti-management slant on the document, calling it a "no confidence" vote for PPD satraps. And, truthfully, there's much in the doc, particularly in the written responses, that indicates the relationship between sergeants and lieutenants and the command staff ain't what it should be.

"What in your opinion is the single biggest challenge facing the Phoenix Police Department?" asks the survey at one point.

Answers run the gamut from, "We need a new Fourth Floor," and "morale" to "a lack of leadership" and "corruption within the department."

One commenter opines, "No one has faith in the chief."

Rossi repeated some of these negative comments, along with the news that around 70 percent of the 150-so respondents were satisfied or very satisfied as employees of the department. Around 87 percent of respondents (by my count) agreed that the department was committed to providing quality service.

However, Rossi ignored negative reactions regarding PLEA and Mark Spencer. For instance, one survey-taker listed "Mark Spencer" as the PPD's "single biggest challenge."

That same respondent, when asked what he or she would like to see done to address this "challenge," said in regard to Spencer, "Fire him."

Weirdly, Rossi reported that the "Fire him" comment was about Harris, not Spencer.

Perhaps some confusion can be forgiven. PPSLA President Mark Hafkey told me that the information posted at KPHO and PLEA came from a "data dump" and was not a finished report. He also informed me that the information was taken from PPSLA offices without permission and was later posted to PLEA's Web site. 

Plus, he confirmed what appears obvious from the raw data: The "Fire him" comment refers to Spencer.

Rossi said her sources told her the PPSLA was trying to keep the report "under wraps." Hafkey denied this, telling me that the final report will be issued after a labor-management conference between PPD management and PPSLA.

In an e-mail to PPSLA members sent January 27, one quoted in part by Rossi, Hafkey admits that the survey indicated "significant dissatisfaction." Due to the preliminary results, Hafkey told his members of the planned labor-management conference to hash out concerns. He promised more info would be distributed following the conference. 

Hardly evidence of a cover-up. 

Currently, according to Hafkey, the powwow's scheduled to occur on two dates, February 25 and March 10. 

In her piece, Rossi says she contacted PPSLA, but received no response. Hafkey told me he'd gotten a phone call and an e-mail seeking comment the day of Rossi's story, but he was tied up in a federally-mandated disaster-response training course. By the time he was ready to react, the piece had run.

Hafkey said PPSLA would seek a retraction from KPHO.

Also, he stated the union is considering what other actions it might take regarding the document believed stolen from PPSLA offices. 

I called and e-mailed Rossi regarding the matter, but have yet to hear back from her.

If Rossi and KPHO do a retraction, particularly on the "Fire him" quote, that would be good journalism. They may also want to point out that the document they reference specifically asks "dissatisfied" respondents the reasons for their opinions. 

In other words, PPSLA was actively seeking critical assessments of the department, even from the minority.

Will KPHO will do a story on the many derisive comments PLEA and Spencer received in the survey -- a survey the station made such a huge deal about?

To the "single biggest challenge" question, one respondent states, "PLEA's negative attacks." Another cites, "The constant attacks of PLEA on the PPD supervisors." Yet another notes, "the negative spin some [of] the unions are putting on these issues to enumerate the deficiencies of/with Jack Harris."

Replying to a different survey question, one person says he or she'd like to see both the PLEA President and Harris retire. Others echo the call for a simultaneous changing of the guard in PPD and PLEA.

"Management needs to stop caving into PLEA demands," writes another.

Do "not let PLEA run this department," adds one more.

Of course, the respondents are not members of PLEA, but considering that PLEA experienced an eight percent drop in membership last year, PLEA muck-a-mucks should be the last ones squealing about expressions of "no confidence." 

I do have to compliment PLEA for getting its spin in the local media on a regular basis. PLEA's Web site is full of such twisted interpretations.

Recently, PLEA posted a video of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery telling reporters that, "We have no evidence to pursue criminal charges against officials of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association for witness tampering or witness intimidation. So at this point in time, I consider the investigation closed in that regard." 

This was in connection to the shooting of an unarmed South Phoenix resident by Phoenix Police Officer Richard Chrisman. The investigation of PLEA began under the watch of Montgomery's predecessor, interim County Attorney Rick Romley.

PLEA titled its blog post, "MCAO Exonerates PLEA." As you can see, Montgomery didn't exactly use the word, "exonerate." 

My congrats to PLEA's pooh-bahs for successfully dodging the allegations. But don't delude yourselves, fellas. Patrol cops, lieutenants, sergeants, and savvy members of the public are on to your shenanigans. No matter what KPHO reports.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons