Poor leadership leads to low morale at DPS - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Poor leadership leads to low morale at DPS

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

Posted: Friday, May 27, 2011 4:00 am | Updated: 5:19 pm, Fri May 27, 2011.

An astonishing 95 percent of Arizona Department of Public Safety employees say morale is low at the agency and place most of the blame on the administration led by DPS Director Bobby Halliday, according to a survey commissioned by the Fraternal Order of Police.

Respondents were asked to rate the morale at DPS, and 66 percent said morale is "extremely low," while another 29 percent said morale is "low." Only 5 percent said it was "average" and zero percent said morale is "extremely high" or "high."

Halliday and his lieutenant colonels were identified by the officers and civilian employees as the cause for the decline in morale at Arizona's statewide police agency.

Asked to identify which contributing factors are negatively affecting morale, 67 percent of respondents identified Halliday as the biggest factor; 79 percent identified upper management, including the lieutenant colonels appointed by Halliday; 27 percent said lower and middle management were responsible; and 19 percent identified first-line supervision as the source of morale problems (responders could select more than one option in the question). Even with budget cuts and continual legislative meddling, only 17 percent of respondents blamed outside factors for declining morale.

Respondents were also asked in which part of the command structure they have the least confidence: 78 percent said they have the least confidence in Halliday and his lieutenants colonels; 10 percent said they have the least confidence in first-line supervisors; and 6 percent said they have the least confidence in their middle managers.

Of DPS' approximate 1,600 full-time employees, 503 responded to the survey, which was conducted by the National Business Research Institute at the request of the Fraternal Order of Police. FOP represents 70 percent of DPS officers.

Halliday, who was appointed director of DPS in January of 2010, issued a statement Thursday saying he was "deeply concerned" about the survey.

"Since the time of my appointment, the Arizona Department of Public Safety has faced a series of fiscal and staffing challenges due to the state's economic crisis. These challenging times are difficult for our employees and their morale is surely affected. Additionally, I recognize the change of the leadership team and philosophy, which occurred upon my appointment, can also be unsettling to many of our employees.

"Like any organization, the most important part of DPS is the people who comprise the organization," Halliday added. "Having said that, I am committed to working with our employee groups and other stakeholders toward solutions to the concerns identified through this survey."

The survey findings are significant. Although DPS' most visible function is patrolling state highways, they're also Arizona's lead agency in fighting organized crime, drugs and gangs. They also run the state crime lab and provide support for law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

If DPS doesn't deliver services at the highest levels, it hurts everyone. A poorly run DPS impacts safety throughout Arizona as well as all along the Arizona-Mexico border.

DPS Sgt. John Ortolano, Arizona's FOP leader, told me the FOP "desires to see DPS become the premier law enforcement agency in Arizona as it once was."

"Without positive managerial changes," Ortolano added, "DPS will not be able to provide Arizona residents the level of service they need and deserve."

When Halliday was appointed DPS director last year by Gov. Jan Brewer -- he had retired in 2008 as a commander -- many inside DPS and in Arizona law enforcement questioned the selection.

During senate confirmation hearings, Halliday was questioned about a 2000 brush with Payson police following a disturbance, as well as his relationship with the trucking industry, a group critical of DPS' enforcement efforts. Halliday has admitted that he's had a long friendship with Swift Trucking safety director Gary Fitzsimmons.

After Halliday's confirmation, DPS altered its policy and prohibited officers from making "administrative stops" on trucks - which do not require probable cause but are done to check drivers' log books and look for safety violations.

DPS has always been a passion-driven agency made up of dedicated employees who see protecting Arizona as a calling, not just a job. But the reality is that failure at the top eventually trickles down to the bottom if those failures aren't corrected.

While Gov. Brewer continues to blame the federal government for crime in Arizona, she may want to take a real hard look at Halliday and his leadership of DPS. The buck stops with her on this one; she picked Halliday as Arizona's top cop.

• 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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