Richardson: Budget woes should prompt changes in public safety - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Richardson: Budget woes should prompt changes in public safety

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Posted: Saturday, October 18, 2008 7:18 pm | Updated: 12:11 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Is it time for everyone to buy a gun and get a dog? Mesa and Phoenix have announced draconian budget cuts. Tempe's next.

We got a dose of what to expect in statewide public safety when the Arizona Department of Public Safety started charging for crime lab work.

The days of milk and honey in the name of public safety are over. The words police officer, firefighter and hero no longer justify a blank check and "anything goes" spending of taxpayer dollars.

Police and fire departments have to redefine how they do business if they want to continue to deliver quality and essential services. Sacred cows that suck off cash have to be slaughtered.

Unions will scream about what's coming and pressure politicians to let business as continue as usual.

Now is the time for public safety leadership to critically examine how the protection business will be done. Chiefs will not only have to focus on immediate difficulties but also look at the future needs of our very fluid communities. The East Valley policing model that's been put in place has demonstrated how manpower and resources can be shared to cut costs and increase efficiency. Policing now has to be taken to the next level of mutual assistance where political boundary lines have no real meaning, much like with fire and emergency medical services.

Elected policy makers have to look at true need, not emotional political issues and paybacks for support from employees unions, in how budgetary decisions are made that affect an entire community and work force. No more favorites. Every department is on the same governmental team to serve and protect the community.

Police and fire departments must meet their primary responsibilities first and foremost. Until that's done, everything else is on hold.

For police departments that means stopping serious and dangerous crime at the lowest level. Cops on every beat, detectives to investigate felony crime, records and communications are at the top of the list. It may not be sexy, but this is where the police work is done.

For too long, police agencies have been addicted to sexy details that bleed off manpower and resources as some basic police services are neglected.

Departments have long filled expensive assignments in specialty units including SWAT, motorcycles and horse patrol while beat cars go unfilled and detectives working on violent crimes have huge case loads with no help in sight.

The recent dips in city crime rates shouldn't be a sedative for decision makers. The "keeping up with the Joneses" way of policing has to stop.

Look no further than all of the armored vehicles that fill the garages of valley police agencies. Or how one department gets new Honda motorcycles, so everyone else wants them long before the ones they're riding are worn out. One East Valley SWAT team could service all of the agencies; beat cops in cars can enforce traffic and DUI laws. As for horses, the county has a horse posse that works for hay. City police don't need horse squads.

The county attorney and sheriff need to join up with city police to share resources and establish a countywide strategy to fight all crime, not just immigration violations. The continual grandstanding and waste of finite resources only adds to the problem, and the public's growing distrust in our elected county law enforcement officials has many feeling they are only there to protect their own political careers and not us.

And the Arizona Department of Public Safety needs to remember why it was created, to support local law enforcement, patrol the highways, enforce narcotics laws and run the state crime lab. DPS's recent ventures into immigration enforcement and serving arrest warrants duplicates existing police services and is a prime example of reckless duplicity and waste. The state needs to get back to basics and quit trying to one-up other law enforcement agencies while wasting tax dollars and not meeting their basic responsibilities to Arizona's residents.

How our public safety and elected leadership responds during these extremely difficult times will be critical to our personal and economic survival and community sustainability. No one wants to live or spend money in a high-crime area.

Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net.

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