Investigation Uncovers Mass Purging Of Phoenix Police Department Misconduct Records

from the clean-slates-for-all! dept

There’s nothing about American policing that police unions can’t make worse. A powerful obstacle standing in the way of accountability and transparency, police unions ensure Americans remain underserved by their public servants.

Police unions have defended such things as tossing flashbang grenades into rooms containing infants and the elimination of drug testing for officers. They’ve repeatedly tried to thwart legislation that would provide more public access to police misconduct records and have often verbally attacked anyone who questions the actions of law enforcement.

What they’re best at doing is tipping the scale in favor of bad cops. Apparently laboring under the pretense that even a bad cop is a better person than anyone not wearing the blue, unions effectively neutralize oversight by ensuring city and state agencies cannot easily access discipline records. Then they go further, preventing even the police from policing themselves.

Justin Price’s report on the whitewashing powers of the Phoenix (AZ) PD’s union contract is a jaw-dropping read. But it’s not an anomaly. There are contracts like this in place all over the nation. But AZ Central’s investigation shows just how much has been swept under the rug to “protect” cops from the people they serve.

Phoenix Police Sgt. Philip Roberts was suspended from the force for 30 days after an internal investigation concluded he failed to properly manage a 2015 incident where officers shot and killed a mentally ill man.

Lt. Dalin Webb received a written reprimand for his 2013 arrest on domestic violence charges in which he reportedly shoved his wife and choked his teenage son.

Officer Joshua Wayne Beeks was suspended for 15 days when the Department discovered he was involved in three unauthorized high-speed pursuits in a single year that killed two people.

But there’s little indication in Phoenix Police Department personnel and internal investigations records that those officers were ever disciplined.

That’s because Roberts, Webb and Beeks, like hundreds of other Phoenix police officers in recent years, were allowed to erase records of their misconduct from files kept by the Police Department.

The practice, which the Department refers to as “purging,” has been standard for more than two decades under the police union’s contract, but the public has been unaware of it.

The contract also prohibits misconduct detailed in the purged records from being considered in future disciplinary investigations or performance evaluations.

If the goal is to keep bad cops employed indefinitely, it’s been super-effective. Over 500 of the city’s 3,000 officers have had their pasts memory-holed by the union contract, covering over 600 misconduct incidents ranging from failure to complete reports to deployments of excessive force.

The purging prevents even internal investigators from discovering patterns of misconduct that should result in harsher discipline or termination. It also prevents plaintiffs suing officers over violated rights from obtaining key background info that could indicate an officer is a longtime abuser of citizens. In one case cited in Price’s report, the PD began purging an officer’s records as soon as the officer had been served.

The lack of a paper trail results in things like this happening:

Purged records don’t appear in a file review.

Those records also don’t show up during annual performance evaluations.

Officer Kevin McGowan, for example, earned top marks in his 2015 evaluation despite being disciplined for serious misconduct during the previous year.

An internal investigation concluded McGowan used excessive force when he stomped on an 18-year-old man’s neck, driving his face into the tile floor of a convenience store and knocking out three of the man’s teeth.

The incident was captured in surveillance footage taken from the store.

McGowan was initially fired, but the union interceded and he ended up with only a 30-day suspension. A few years later, the disciplinary files were purged, resulting in this cop being commended for being such a great cop. Phrases like “positive attitude” and “community contributor” were tossed around by supervisors unaware of McGowan’s recent past.

AZ Central’s investigation involved comparing the list of disciplinary files sent to the city’s Human Resources Department by the Fiscal Management Bureau with the list of misconduct records maintained by the PD’s Professional Standards Bureau. What’s considered to be an officer’s “permanent record” is maintained by the city’s HR department. “Maintained” is definitely overstating things.

By cross-referencing the two sets of records, The Republic identified hundreds of disciplinary cases that had been hidden from internal affairs and the Department’s leadership.

Over five years, records of 90% of all sustained misconduct investigations had been erased.

Some of these records are supposed to be maintained for at least five years, according to the contract language. But AZ Central found multiple cases where files had been memory-holed ahead of schedule. Files detailing incidents that resulted in suspensions of over 80 days are never supposed to be purged, but the investigation discovered many of those were missing as well.

The PD explains away all this opacity by saying it increases officer morale. And of course it would. Many employees in many different fields would feel better about themselves and their jobs if they knew their misconduct would never be used against them. But the PD doesn’t serve itself. Or at least, it shouldn’t. It serves the public. And nothing about this union contract shows any concern about the public or its morale.

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Comments on “Investigation Uncovers Mass Purging Of Phoenix Police Department Misconduct Records”

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20 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Negotiation at gun point

I want to say, and no one is surprised, but there are some who don’t understand the the predicament public service unions have gotten the rest of us into via negotiating with the threat of withholding services.

I believe two things related to this. The first is that all employees should be treated fairly. The second is that all employees should be held accountable for their actions. These contracts show that the fairness part is far too far in the employees favor. This is made apparent, among other things, by the lack of accountability as shown by this and other articles.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Good luck ever reaching that point...

Files detailing incidents that resulted in suspensions of over 80 days are never supposed to be purged, but the investigation discovered many of those were missing as well.

Even if that part was actually upheld I can only wonder how many people would literally have to die in a single incident for a thug with a badge to get an 80 day suspension, given kicking someone’s face into the floor hard enough to break teeth apparently only got 30 days.

The PD explains away all this opacity by saying it increases officer morale.

Go figure, thugs with badges feel better when they know they can just wipe any records of their abuse of power to make it all the harder for them to ever face accountability for their actions. The kind of person who gets a boost to morale from a ‘perk’ like that has no business being in a profession where a gun and large leeway to use it is part of the job.

If police and unions like this want to convince people that they are the most dangerous gang in the country then they are doing a great job by ensuring that the ‘few bad apples’ will be kept plenty long enough to spread their rot to the entire barrel via hiding their actions from the public they theoretically serve and making sure the only punishments handed out are at ‘slap on the wrist’ level at worst.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Good luck ever reaching that point...

Actually, all you’d really need to do is police in england. Get benched for years while your conduct was investigated. End of which, too much time had passed, you’re acquitted, and you can go about your life again.

Of course, if you really were innocent, you’ve just wasted several years of your life sitting around waiting for the other shoe to drop.

bob says:

Re: Re:

But those negotiations are done behind closed doors so the majority of citizens never learn about this abuse in police contracts. If city council members learn of it I’m sure the unions have a nice benefits package arranged ahead of time to keep them quiet.

Honestly if the common man ever knew about the systemic abuse in government they would be totally appalled and driven to fix the system. The problem though is the common man has a life to live, a job to work, and a million other distractions that keep them busy. So as long as the corruption doesn’t negatively impact them too much, normal people usually ignore the corruption and it is left to continue or grow.

JdL (profile) says:

And we're surprised because ... ?

Silly citizens! Don’t you know that your betters, in "public service", don’t need to share anything with you unless they want to? Some asshole cop mistreated you, you say? Just be glad you’re still alive, if you were so stupid as to piss that cop off. You know he can kill you with impunity, don’t you? Bend over and take it!

Anonymous Coward says:

" …serves the public."

I think maybe that’s the problem right there.
What exactly makes you think the police "serve the public" ?
Is there some kind of rule or law that states this to be a reality?
Wasn’t "Protect and Serve" just a motto for one police force somewhere.
Something they could paint on their car doors…
Could it be that the Police simply DO NOT legally serve the public at all?
That certainly appears to be the standard police union’s take on reality.

urza9814 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yup. The courts have ruled — many times — that the police do not exist to serve or protect the general public. They exist to enforce the will of the state — see Lozita v. New York City. In fact, even a court-issued protective order does not mean the police have to actually protect you, they’re legally entitled to use their own discretion as to whether or not they want to respond to your 911 call — as explained in Castle Rock v. Gonzales.

If you’ve got a restraining order against an abusive spouse, one which explicitly states the spouse must be arrested if they violate the order…that spouse could slowly stab you to death in broad daylight right in the lobby of the police station and the police are entirely within their rights to sit there watching and laughing about it. That is how our courts have interpreted the law.

ECA (profile) says:

Metality..

Everyone is guilty of something…
everyone is stupid…
Everyone has done stupid things and arresting them will let them pay for it, one way or another..

Officers that DONT know the law, are told how to Justify themselves and protect themselves when they are being the idiot.
The Citizens, that dont know their OWN RIGHTS..as they keep changing things.. and the idea that the OFFICER is right?? he knows the law better then the Cit??

Lord protect us all..

Anonymous Coward says:

Technical objection: Doublespeak detected

When the PD rep said that it’s good for morale, the truth is that it is un-bad for morale. The PD’s morale today is better than it is tomorrow, if it’s gone by then.

When it comes to things like "official statements" and other bureaucratese, you can often see the truth behind the lies – if you know what to look for.

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