Longform

Phil Roberts Exaggerated the Phoenix PD's Kidnapping Statistics, Then Tried to Debunk His Own Numbers

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Roberts wanted to return to the Robbery Unit, in part because he suffered a "financial hit." He was not allowed.

City records show that prior to joining the Robbery Unit, in 2005, Roberts made $6,864 worth of overtime and on-call pay. In 2006, his first year as a Robbery Unit sergeant handling kidnap and home invasion cases, it doubled to about $12,100. The following year, it surpassed $50,000.

By 2008, his overtime and on-call pay alone hit a striking $66,952.80.

After Burgett moved HIKE to the Drug Enforcement Bureau, Roberts' overtime income dropped considerably.

In December 2009, he filed a claim against the city seeking $500,000 in damages for their retaliation against him for exposing their alleged misdeeds. He followed it up with a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, which city attorneys will ask the courts to dismiss.

In February 2010, he filed a second claim against Phoenix, naming in it all those who he believed wronged him. In it, he asked for millions of dollars to settle the claim.

By that time, after a year of writing lengthy memos and distributing them to City Hall and other city investigators, Roberts said he was diagnosed with "extreme stress" and went on an eight-month leave. But he kept writing.

When he returned in mid-August 2010, police officials placed him on administrative leave and notified him that he was under investigation.

Phoenix police officials have not revealed to New Times the nature of the investigation of Roberts. When he realized he was on the receiving end of an investigation, Roberts went back on stress leave and didn't return until October 3, 2010.

When federal investigators' initial inquiry found discrepancies in police reports linked to the 356 kidnapping cases in 2008, Roberts stood tall and took credit for blowing the whistle.

While the federal inquiry is ongoing, a five-member panel convened by City Manager David Cavazos revealed in May that detectives were not managing their cases properly, causing reports to be mislabeled and statistics skewed.

When Phoenix police diligently combed through the reports, the 358 kidnapping cases in 2008 almost doubled.

The panel revealed that Phoenix dealt with more than 600 kidnap cases in 2008, and that it found no "credible evidence" that police officials intentionally inflated any numbers.

Roberts knew that detectives' shoddy case management would screw up the stats, and he even described it in an August 9, 2010, memo.

"As senior Robbery Sergeant at the time, I was familiar with all of these explanations and how they evolved," he wrote. "Many of the 300-plus kidnappings that were reported to the Robbery Unit each year had to do with routing errors."

Knowing the root of the problems with statistics did not stop him from claiming that the figures were intentionally exaggerated or from quoting the higher figures himself.

In fact, four days after explaining to city investigators that routing errors were to blame for the erroneous statistics, Roberts reiterated his claims that Phoenix intentionally inflated those figures to get federal funding.

He doesn't mention in his memos that he was one of the very sergeants who should have been ensuring detectives were properly managing those kidnap and home invasion case files in 2007 and most of 2008.

And he pushed his claims as truth, even when he knew his allegations were just his own "plausible explanations."

"I do not attest that any of these . . . reasons are the sole or even a partial reason as to what is and what is not occurring," he wrote — a convoluted way to say that his allegations are mere speculation — in the same memo in which he questioned the accuracy of the kidnapping statistics.


The firestorm of controversy that engulfed the Phoenix Police Department and led to Chief Harris' dismissal could have been prevented.

Phoenix police officials had access to all of Roberts' memos and to the police reports that supposedly were linked to the kidnapping cases, and they had discovered similar reporting errors with homicide cases in 2007.

Even a cursory review of those documents and an honest public explanation would have likely quelled questions about the integrity of an entire police department. It might have even spared then-Public Safety Manager Jack Harris' job.

Phoenix and its police agency remained defiantly silent, allowing PLEA to shop the story and spread a one-sided tale of corruption among police officials.

Harris had to know that statistics are thrown off when police officers do not properly label cases or update case files. His department had similar issues with homicide statistics in 2007 and, thus, ordered a special audit.

The report revealed that homicide stats were wrong because detectives weren't managing their cases properly — the same problem the five-member panel found with home invasions and kidnapping cases.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo