City Hall

Tempe Police Chief Apologizes to Taxpayers for Officers' Strip Club Visit

Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir addresses the media at police headquarters on November 15.
Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir addresses the media at police headquarters on November 15. Joseph Flaherty
click to enlarge Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir addresses the media at police headquarters on November 15. - JOSEPH FLAHERTY
Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir addresses the media at police headquarters on November 15.
Joseph Flaherty
Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir apologized to taxpayers after several female officers visited a strip club while on a city-funded conference trip to Palm Springs, California.

"The optics of their decision reflects poorly on the city of Tempe, and more specifically, it reflects poorly on the police department," Moir said during a press conference on Thursday at police headquarters.

Moir stated unequivocally that she never tried to suppress the allegations. She criticized an anonymous letter-writer who kicked off the controversy by informing Tempe's city manager and council of what happened at the conference.

Moir believes that the whistle-blower wanted to "do harm and disquiet or cause disequilibrium in the organization."

As Phoenix New Times reported on Thursday, Moir told the city manager and city council of the strip club excursion on Sunday in response to the anonymous tipster's messages about the officers' "wild 'girl's night out'" in Palm Springs using taxpayer funds.

In the November 11 letter to the city's leadership, Moir admitted that several female officers went to "an establishment where topless dancing occurs," but said she said they made "a very poor choice."

Tempe paid $6,309 to send Moir and other officers to the "Women Leaders in Law Enforcement Training Symposium," which took place from October 21 to 23 at the Riviera Resort in Palm Springs. Moir has said that she did not attend the strip club with the other officers.

The city paid the police department employees daily traveling expenses for the work trip, known as a per diem. For her per diem, Moir received a total of $231 for the three-and-a-half day trip.

Moir's letter to her superiors implied that officers had spent at least some of their per diem at the strip club, but she emphasized that as long as the money was spent on legal activities, the officers did not break any rules or policies.

However, at Thursday's press conference, Moir said there was no way to determine if the per diem funds were spent at the strip club.

The money is distributed in advance via check or direct deposit, and employees aren't required to account for their expenses through receipts, which Moir explained as a simple matter of city policy. There is always an opportunity to re-examine the per diem policy, Moir said, but added, "We aren't pursuing that path right now."

Nothing has given rise to an internal investigation, she went on, characterizing the episode as an opportunity to discuss the way employee decisions reflect on the Tempe Police Department and public employees everywhere.

When asked what she would say to the Tempe taxpayers who paid for the trip, Moir apologized – with a few asterisks.

"My message to taxpayers in [the] city of Tempe is, I'm sorry," Moir said. "I'm sorry that our employees made a decision as consenting adults that while not illegal, not a violation of policy, if in any way it brings discredit on the professional work that our people do every single day to safeguard Tempe – to reduce harm and enhance trust – then I owe our community an apology."

The police department spends money responsibly and transparently, Moir emphasized. "I encourage folks to give this one look, and then to trust that we're going to do right by them," she said.

Moir had declined to speak with New Times about the matter on Wednesday. A city spokesperson said that Moir's statement to the city's leadership speaks for itself.

In a brief interview before Thursday's press conference, however, Moir claimed that she had been unavailable the day before. She was now convening the press conference for the benefit of anyone interested in the story, Moir said.

During the press event at Tempe police headquarters, Moir was unable to provide key details about what occurred on the trip.

She couldn't say how many officers visited the strip club, but noted that there were eight police department employees at the conference, all women. Moir couldn't say with certainty what happened on the night in question – she acknowledged that she only has secondhand knowledge – but said that she trusts her officers' account of what happened.

One of the attendees at the strip club called Moir, she said, and told her, "Chief, we were there for like 20 minutes, and I am really sorry." In response, Moir recalled asking the officer if they did anything illegal or anything in violation of policy.

"She said, 'No. But I'm totally embarrassed that all of the work we've done, all of the positive strides we've made to be totally inclusive and build a culture that we built in Tempe, may be kind of tamped down because of my actions,'" Moir recalled.

She first learned of the visit to the strip club from the anonymous allegations, Moir said.

When asked why she hadn't heard of the incident previously, Moir said that just as she wasn't invited to the strip club, she "wasn't privy to how this came to light in an anonymous letter."

"I think in any organization of any size, it's appropriate and it's common for the chief executive to know some things and not others," Moir said. "I don't feel offended by the fact that I wasn't invited, nor do I feel offended by the fact that I didn't know until this anonymous letter came to light."

And Moir criticized the mysterious tipster, who also reached out to retired Mesa police detective Bill Richardson as well as local media. She believes the anonymous letter-writer may have wanted to sow discord, she said.

The letters described a culture of favoritism toward women under Moir's police department, and criticized Moir for excessive travel out-of-state. She defended her travel in her statement to the city council. 

The letters showed a "veiled sexism and discrimination," Moir said at the press conference. She suggested that the author wanted to condemn certain individuals – one of the letters named two lieutenants who allegedly attended the strip club – or condemn Moir as the chief of police.

"I'd say to that person, question why you're doing it. What is your intent?" Moir said.
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty