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How the Phoenix Police Department Spends Its $745 Million Budget

The city wants to give the force an additional $24 million. But the department is still failing to solve crimes, and officers have shot 212 people between 2011 and 2018, killing about half.

(Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown. Photo from the Phoenix Police Department Instagram.)

Nine years ago, an efficiency study of the Phoenix Police Department found that the patrol bureau was overstaffed and underworked, and recommended the elimination of hundreds of positions. 

That never happened. Instead, the city has increased the department’s budget by over $200 million since that time, while clearance rates have dropped, and crime rates have increased. Nearly half of the total police budget goes to paying the department’s almost 2,000 patrol cops. Meanwhile, only 20 employees are assigned to its adult sex crimes unit, which solves about 10 percent of reported rapes.

Across the country, calls to cut police budgets are growing. The Minneapolis City Council just promised to disband the city’s troubled police department. The mayors of Los Angeles and New York City committed to shrinking police budgets. And in Portland, Oregon, the mayor and superintendent agreed to remove police officers from the city’s schools and put the $1 million budgeted for school resource officers back into the community. 

But Phoenix police, who shot at more people than any other department in the nation in 2018, are about to get a $24 million budget increase

The general fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year, full of cuts due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, is over $1.4 billion. (The general fund includes money derived from taxes and fees that have unrestricted use. Phoenix’s operating budget is $4.5 billion.) The police department is set to receive $592 million from the general fund—52 percent of the general fund budget—plus $153 million from other city sources. Meanwhile, the city is spending $118 million on housing, $40.8 million on community and economic development, and $64 million on neighborhood services.

At a budget meeting on June 3, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the City Council chambers to demand that Phoenix defund the police by 25 percent and put that money into programs that create safe and healthy communities, like mental health and substance use counseling, after-school programs, and aid to help those struggling with homelessness. 

But in the end, council members instead focused on fully funding a new agency to provide civilian oversight of the police department. A measure to create the agency had passed in February, but the agency’s proposed funding was slashed in April as the pandemic took hold. 

After much debate, city officials restored that funding, but still increased the police department’s budget by about 3.3 percent—even as the city anticipates a loss of $26 million in revenue because of COVID-19.

“They wanna keep throwing Band-Aids on the problem while our blood stains these streets,” Anna Hernandez, whose brother Alejandro Hernandez was shot and killed by Phoenix police in 2017, said at the rally outside the City Council chambers. “Money is not going to solve the problem. Cops don’t fix homelessness. Cops don’t feed people. Cops don’t educate people. That’s what our people need. … If you have a healthy community, you don’t need cops to patrol them.”

Although the Phoenix police union has said the department is facing an officer shortage, recommendations from the 2011 efficiency report—which were never fully implemented—said it was actually overstaffed. The report, written by the management consultant Berkshire Advisors, identified up to 714 positions that could be cut largely by restructuring patrol shifts to reduce overlap and reducing the number of officers who respond to calls. By not paying the salaries of 714 sworn officers, the city could save at least $36 million

Police spending in Phoenix has soared in the last decade from $540 million in 2010 to $745 million today—a 38 percent increase—but this has not resulted in a drop in violent crime, nor has it led to more crimes being solved. At the same time, calls for service have remained steady, even as the number of officers on patrol has increased by nearly 20 percent. In 2011, a Phoenix police officer responded to an average of 503 calls per year. By 2019, that number dropped to 393.

Clearance rates (the measure of how many cases police close by arrest or exceptional means) for violent crimes like rape and murder have dropped in Phoenix. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, 1,086 rapes were reported to the police. Only 109 (10 percent) were cleared, meaning 90 percent of rapes in 2018 went unsolved. In 2010, 72.4 percent of murders were cleared. By 2018, that number had dropped slightly to 68.9 percent. From 2008 to 2018, one-third of all homicides in Phoenix went unsolved.

So while the city is spending more on police than ever before, the police department is still failing to perform its key function—solving crimes—but its officers have shot 212 people between 2011 and 2018, killing about half. Not a single officer was criminally charged.

“Mayor Kate Gallego has been in office for many years as a city councilperson and as a mayor,” said Viri Hernandez, executive director of Poder in Action, a Maryvale-based advocacy group, at the rally to defund the police. “Since Mayor Gallego has been in office, [at least] 151 people have been shot and 84 people have been killed. That’s just in the last five years since she’s been here. Their statement says we are here to listen—but we don’t want any more fucking listening. We want action.” 

Gallego and the Phoenix Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

A vast majority of the Phoenix Police Department’s budget—more than 90 percent—goes to paying the salaries and benefits of the department’s 4,360 allotted employees. The rest of the budget is spent on contractual services (7 percent), and less than 2 percent for supplies and equipment each.

Most of those employees are assigned to patrol. The department is authorized to employ 1,843 people full-time to respond to calls for service, and nearly 100 on the neighborhood enforcement teams. Another five are assigned to the “party crew,” a targeted enforcement squad that was initially established to crack down on gang members who organized parties for a charge, but by 2010 focused almost entirely on underage drinking. Patrol alone accounted for over $328 million of the department’s $721 million budget in 2019. In contrast, the city spends $17 million on homicide investigators. 

The Berkshire report noted that the department had failed to adjust staffing levels for patrol to reflect the “reduction in the department’s workload,” since calls for service responded to by patrol officers had declined by 17.85 percent from 2007 to 2010 at the time of the study. Since 2010, calls for service have increased by about 12 percent, while the number of patrol officers responding to those calls has increased by about 19 percent.

Meanwhile, the police department has only 90 full-time employees assigned to investigate the city’s annual average of 142 murders, plus a backlog of thousands of cold cases. And there are only 20 full-time employees assigned to the adult sex crimes unit, which investigates the more than 1,000 rapes reported in Phoenix each year. More people are assigned to the department’s public affairs bureau (about 25 full-time staff members), which puts out press releases and responds to requests from journalists. 

The police department could improve its rape clearance rate by assigning more investigators to the unit, but the number of people assigned to the adult sex crimes unit has instead decreased in recent years.

The department spends roughly $4 million on investigating adult sex crimes (almost $100,000 less than it spends on its public affairs bureau). But it spends nearly $16 million to keep cops in schools across Phoenix. School systems in cities like Denver, Portland, Seattle, and Oakland have all cut contracts with police departments in a move to get police officers out of school. 

On June 5, hundreds of students marched to the Phoenix Union High School District’s main office demanding that the district end its contract with the police department. For years, students in Arizona have asked for more counselors and fewer cops in schools.

In addition to suggesting that the department switch from a 10-hour shift schedule for patrol to reduce overlap (which would eliminate hundreds of positions and save millions of dollars), the efficiency report also recommended the discontinuation of the “party crew,” whose focus duplicates the functions of other units. Disbanding it would save the city nearly $1 million.

Plenty of viable options to reduce police spending have been put forth over the years. They include stopping the use of a squad of the Special Assignment Unit solely dedicated to serving warrants—another function already carried out elsewhere in the department. Public housing patrols, deemed an unnecessary use of resources back in 2011, also could be cut. And, as the authors of the 2011 report suggested, the department could discontinue fixed-wing aircraft surveillance.

Yet Mayor Gallego and the City Council have increased the department’s budget each year. In 2019, community members pressured Gallego and the council not to pass a $721 million budget for the police department without adopting some reforms. That pressure ultimately led to the creation of the civilian review board and an ad hoc committee to implement long-stalled police reforms. 

One of the committee’s mandates was to review and carry out the recommendations from the Berkshire report. The committee is set to conclude next month, but they still have not been given time to review the report. 

On June 8, Councilmember Carlos Garcia, a former activist with Puente who faced criticism from the Phoenix police union last year for wearing a shirt that said “End Police Brutality,” released a statement on the council’s vote to fund civilian oversight—and add more money to the police department’s budget. 

“Funding these programs [civilian oversight] will not solve all the issues our community faces with police, including police brutality or institutionalized racism, but hopefully it will start a conversation on how we as a community envision a different future,” Garcia said. “It doesn’t stop here. As we move forward, our office makes a commitment to … push our city to think differently in how we spend our money. That includes looking for ways to reduce policing budgets.”