Roberts, meanwhile, claimed he'd exposed the police department's "corruption." He called himself a hero and a whistle-blower.
The truth? This cop was anything but.
As it turns out, Phil Roberts made his allegations about corrupt police officials and inflated statistics after he was passed over for a job to head a team of investigators chasing those kidnappers. A job he really wanted.
He understood that statistics generated by kidnapping cases could be misleading, because their accuracy hinges on detectives properly labeling police reports or investigations. He knew that his own unit wasn't living up to that responsibility, but that did not stop him from accusing Phoenix officials of intentionally blowing the kidnapping crisis out of proportion — even though that wasn't the case.
Roberts' claims that top Phoenix police officials exaggerated kidnapping statistics to defraud the feds out of grant money were debunked by a panel of experts who conducted an in-depth review of the statistics at the behest of the Phoenix city manager. The panel found that the statistics Phoenix released in 2008 were, indeed, flawed — but they were severely under-reported, not inflated.
And this was not due to corruption. Instead — the best anyone could tell — it was lousy recordkeeping.
There are several reasons why Roberts embarked on a campaign to "expose" the Phoenix Police Department.
He alluded to some in his writings, including the mounting stress of a crumbling professional and personal life that was taking its toll on him. Before Roberts fired off a series of very public allegations against top Phoenix police officials, he was a dedicated investigator with an impressive track record in law enforcement. After, he seemed more like a disgruntled employee dealing with the end of a 22-year marriage and the downward spiral of a career that also spanned more than two decades.
When his allegations didn't go anywhere, he concluded that those at the highest levels of the police department were part of the conspiracy against him.
Roberts told New Times that he can't talk about his case because he is currently under investigation by the Phoenix Police Department. Phoenix police officials declined requests for interviews.
But police internal investigative reports, court documents, and Roberts' own memos, e-mails, and personnel files — all acquired through public information requests — as well as background interviews, tell the story.
"There's the black and white written word you can look at weeks, months, years later, but what you don't get is what is happening behind the scenes and the face-to-face conversations," said Dave Kothe, vice president of the Phoenix police officers' union.
When he joined the Phoenix Police Department more than 25 years ago, Phil Roberts was eager to please. Like any rookie cop, he had some polishing to do when it came to writing reports and keeping vigilant on the job. His superiors thought Roberts had potential. Notes in his personnel file indicate he exceeded expectations when it came to his attitude, investigative techniques, and handling stress on the job — skills he perhaps had picked up during his military service.
Born in 1962, Roberts grew up in Phoenix and graduated from Cortez High School on the west side of town. He took a few community college courses, served four years in the U.S. Navy, and then joined the Phoenix Police Department in 1985. He married the following year, according to his divorce file in Maricopa County Superior Court, and fathered three children.
Roberts was dedicated to the job, an ardent over-achiever. He indicated on his city employment records that he dabbled in mountain climbing, scuba diving, and photography.
As he moved up the ranks, it seems he thought some of his colleagues were envious of his promotion to sergeant.
"At times, individuals . . . I have worked with or around mistake my enthusiasm or energy for this job as tension," he wrote in a note to his supervisor in 2007. "In reality, I look upon it as a . . . stinging of one's ego, brought upon my rank of sergeant, making command decisions in the heat of battle."
When he arrived in the Robbery Unit in 2006, police officials had already established the connection between human and drug smuggling and the storm of kidnapping and home invasion cases assailing the city. But there wasn't a dedicated team of investigators handling those cases; instead, they were being juggled by detectives also dealing with general robbery crimes.
Phil Roberts ran the kidnapping and home invasion investigations with little interference from his supervisor. He relished the media attention and the hefty overtime pay associated with working complicated cases that involved trying to locate and rescue kidnapping victims from the hands of drug dealers and human smugglers.