Bill Richardson: Next month, Gov. Jan Brewer will make her most important appointment as the state's chief executive. Brewer will select a new director for the Department of Public Safety, Arizona's statewide police force.
Next month, Gov. Jan Brewer will make her most important appointment as the state's chief executive. Brewer will select a new director for the Department of Public Safety, Arizona's statewide police force.
Unlike a state police, DPS has limited authority and was designed with a primary and prominent mission to support, not compete with, Arizona's police departments and sheriff's offices. Beyond the vital support mission given to it by the Legislature, DPS's duties include patrolling the highways, running the state crime lab, keeping criminal records, investigating statewide organized crime and collecting criminal intelligence.
The DPS director is appointed to a five-year term, is confirmed by the state Senate, and can only be fired for cause. The director's mission is supposed to be free of political influence and obligations.
Unfortunately during the administration of former Gov. Janet Napolitano, DPS became joined at the hip with her political goals. More than one current and former ranking DPS official has told me Napolitano and her staff micromanaged and ran DPS, instead of leaving that duty to the director and his command staff.
The politicization of DPS runs directly against the legislative intent that created the agency in 1968.
When Napolitano picked a new director to replace Dennis Garrett, a former Phoenix police chief, she passed over four highly experienced police executives whose backgrounds included service as a DPS assistant director, a state police chief, a deputy director of a state highway patrol and a police chief from a major metropolitan city. Napolitano instead chose a rural county sheriff and retired DPS lieutenant who just happened to be a political ally.
Napolitano's Arizona public safety legacy is dismal at best.
Brewer's choice will be just as important as the selection made by former Gov. Jack Williams when he picked James Hegarty to be DPS's first director. At that time, Arizona was growing and needed a new kind of statewide police agency to meet the state's public safety needs.
Arizona and its public safety needs today have changed greatly since 1968.
In recent years, Arizona has evolved into a primary link in drug cartels' supply chain from Mexico into the United States. Organized crime now is reportedly involved in as much as 80 percent of Arizona's crime.
Meanwhile, DPS has fallen behind on its essential support mission of assisting local law enforcement. Problems with the state crime lab and the inability to timely and adequately handle DNA evidence have publicly demonstrated another huge gap in the agency's ability to perform its statutory duties. And Arizona still doesn't have a statewide criminal intelligence program for collecting, analyzing and sharing information.
Brewer's handpicked director will have to hit the ground running when taking over Arizona's most visible and powerful state agency - an agency that's suffering from low morale thanks to what one DPS sergeant described as the department's longtime "good old boy and girl" management team.
Her pick will need to be a serious, creative, and accomplished professional with successful leadership experience at multiple and diverse levels of law enforcement. This person should know and understand what goes on beyond the DPS compound walls and be well-versed in using innovative methods and public-private partnerships to cut costs and increase efficiency and quality.
DPS's refusal to join local police and federal law enforcement agencies at the innovative, successful, and cost-cutting East Valley Gang and Information Fusion Center clearly shows the agency's leadership doesn't see and understand the big picture right in front of them.
Brewer needs someone who is a proven change agent and can restructure the organization to ensure it meets its statutory missions and statewide public safety needs in the 21st century. Public safety is the cornerstone of Arizona's sustainability.
Lastly, Brewer needs to find a director who can restore internal trust in DPS's leadership. Taking over a struggling department with almost 2,000 employees and such an important mission is only for proven winners, not wannabes or amateurs.
Brewer can't fail in her choice for a new DPS director. We can't afford it, and neither can her political career and reputation.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.