10 States, 17 Cities, and $36K: Tempe Police Chief's Frequent Travel Adds Up

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
In the past three years, Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir's city-funded travel has taken her to Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. She has visited heartland cities like Chicago and Nashville, Tennessee, and has jetted to the coasts many times.

Moir has been to Las Vegas twice, San Diego three times, and Washington, D.C., five times.

On these trips, plus others that were not funded by the city, Moir traveled to conferences, training, meetings, and seminars sponsored by organizations like the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Police Executive Research Forum. She says the travel helps her learn from others and improve her skills as a police chief, which, in turn, improves the community.

But the hotels, flights, taxis, and other expenses associated with Moir's travel have been paid for by taxpayers on nearly every occasion.

Travel records and receipts obtained by Phoenix New Times through a public-records request show that since Moir joined the police department in March 2016, her city-funded trips have cost Tempe $36,635 through the end of 2018.

Travel by officers in the Tempe Police Department came under scrutiny last November when, in response to an anonymous letter, Moir was forced to acknowledge to city leaders that her officers visited a strip club while in Palm Springs, California, for the Women Leaders in Law Enforcement Training Symposium.

Moir said she did not go to the club. The officers did not violate any rules, she said. The trip to Palm Springs cost the city $6,309 total.

Her travel between the East and West coasts in fall 2017 was a period of especially frequent jet-setting. On October 15, 2017, Moir flew to Washington, D.C., for a conference sponsored by a federal intelligence unit that interrogates high-value detainees. That cost the city $1,328.

Just days later, Moir left Phoenix again, bound for Philadelphia, where she attended the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The cost to Tempe: $2,433.

About two weeks later, on November 4, 2017, Moir and four other Tempe police officers landed in San Jose, California, set to attend the Women Leaders in Law Enforcement Conference in nearby Monterey. Moir's travel alone cost $1,242.

The pace was not out of the ordinary for her. On several occasions, she traveled to a few different conferences in a one-month span of time.

Last year, between April and July, Moir took excursions to Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Colorado for the 2018 Public Safety Summit, the International Downtown Association Conference, and the Police Executive Research Forum annual meeting. Moir billed the city for more than $4,800 in expenses for those trips.

Based on the records, it's unclear whether Moir usually traveled alone or whether she attended the conferences with other police department officials, potentially adding to the city's total expenses.

Some of Moir's trip expenses were paid for by the conference sponsor, not the city of Tempe. For example, a U.S. Department of State-sponsored trip brought Moir to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in June 2018. The Square One Project, a criminal justice reform initiative based at Columbia University, paid for her trip to New York City.

All told, since 2018, Moir traveled to 31 conferences and events for which she billed her expenses to the city, and seven conferences where the sponsoring organization paid her expenses.

On four of the 31 taxpayer-funded trips, Moir remained in-state, traveling to Sedona, Flagstaff, and Tucson.
Her out-of-state, taxpayer-funded travel has taken her to at least 10 states and 17 cities, plus the District of Columbia.

In an emailed statement provided by spokesperson Ronald Elcock, the Tempe Police Department Office of the Chief said, "Training or travel is not a luxury, it is the duty of modern police executives."

The police chief's office said each training or travel opportunity is scrutinized to ensure it is appropriate, emphasizing that the department is committed to good stewardship of public dollars while also adding to the policing field's body of knowledge.

"You will find that Chief Moir’s travel is not extraordinary or out of keeping with other engaged law enforcement agency officials," the statement said. "As a police executive, it is the responsibility and obligation to maintain liaison with other agencies through organizations such as the Arizona Association Chiefs of Police which shapes the best practices in Law Enforcement and often ensures the development of individuals."

The top administrator of the city of Tempe backed Moir when asked about her frequent travel.

Through a spokesperson, Tempe City Manager Andrew Ching said he has reviewed the police department's statement to New Times and concurred with the reasons given for Moir's travel.

"As City Manager, I take seriously my duty to ensure that city-related travel is conducted responsibly and is related to the furtherance of the city’s business purposes," Ching said in a statement. "Chief Moir’s travel has been and will continue to be reviewed for compliance and, to date, I believe it falls within our standards.”

Before coming to Tempe, Moir served as the police chief in El Cerrito, California.

With a population of approximately 185,000 people, Tempe is smaller than many other cities in the Valley, including Mesa, Scottsdale, Glendale, Chandler, and Gilbert. A rough analysis of 2016 FBI crime data by 12 News showed Tempe has a higher-than-average crime rate among cities in the Valley, but experienced less crime than Phoenix, the television station reported last year.

The Phoenix Police Department could not immediately provide an estimate for how much Police Chief Jeri Williams has spent on city-funded travel since she was hired in 2016.

In her November 11 letter to the city manager and City Council responding to the allegations about the strip club visit, Moir defended her travel as a way to improve the police department.

"I believe that in-state and out-of-state conferences and committee service make me a better chief. They provide real-world opportunities to learn from others and continuously improve my skills, and I bring that wisdom home for the benefit of our department and residents," she wrote.

Moir wrote that she often declines the city's daily payment to cover expenses while traveling, known as a per diem, as well as transportation in order to reduce costs for the city.

She added, "Anecdotally, I am aware that a level of travel similar to what mine has been throughout my career as chief is not uncommon."
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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