I talked about the Scottsdale PD Chief’s decision not to allow his employees to take EPSLA, the federally approved 80 hours of extra leave to help in case the Covid lockdown causes you to have to miss work. In his threatening letter to the President of POSA, he partially justified his decision when he wrote, “in a time of crisis such as the one our community is facing . . . case by case decisions do not work well for crisis situations” so the “individual positions listed on the memo are emergency responders and are needed to get us all through this crisis.” I partially agreed with the reasoning behind the exclusion. At the time the reply was sent we did not know what the future was going to look like. Today, almost eight weeks later, we have a much clearer picture. Yet still, he has not allowed his employees to to partake in the EPSLA program. People are still getting sick. Kids are still out of school. A lot of people are still trying to navigate work, the lockdown, home schooling and daycare. Some, like a number of SPD dispatchers are dealing with recovery from the virus.
So, what does the crisis look like for the City of Scottsdale and the Police Department? Has there been a run on police services, a strain on manpower or, per the definition of crisis, “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger” that would require an “all hands on deck” approach?
Recently, the Daily Independent, a small local newspaper did a public records request to obtain the calls for service (CFS) data at Scottsdale. They reported their finding in an article titled Are crimes decreasing in Scottsdale during COVID-19? What did they find? Taking CFS data from March of this year and comparing it with the month of March for the previous two years, calls for service are down by 3,500. This translates to a 15% reduction. When they compared total crimes reported (ie., calls where a police report was taken that document a valid criminal act), it was consistent with the CFS data. Reported crimes were down 15%.
This mirrors what my friends still at the Department are telling me. They are also reporting a fundamental shift in the way Patrol works during the lockdown. Cops were asked to limit on-view (OV) or proactive enforcement. Of the calls 911 is getting, they are only dispatching on high-priority ones like DV, assaults, etc. They are not responding to medical calls unless requested by Scottsdale Fire. Due to all these factors, I’m being told that the workload during a 10 hour Patrol shift has been cut somewhere between 40-50%. One person told me that on a previous Sunday, he was five hours into his shift before he heard the first radio call get dispatched.
So where is the need for the “all hands on deck” mentality that appears to be the Chief’s justification to exclude his cops from using the emergency leave? The numbers do not support it.
Let’s take is a step farther. The lack of calls for service and lack of proactive policing trickles down to the other units within the organization. Fewer reports means fewer follow-up/cases for Investigations. Fewer investigations means fewer search warrants and arrests. Fewer warrants and arrests means less work for SWAT, the Crime Lab, etc. How about traffic enforcement units? How much work are the motors doing with so few cars on the road? How about the DUI squad’s work with all restaurants and bars closed? How about the Bicycle Unit that patrols the Old Town bar district on the weekends?
With the shutdown of all non-essential business, there is a trickle down that requires less non-essential police units, at least temporarily. If there were to be a manpower shortage due to excessive leave, why not shift manpower from these less required units to Patrol? Seems simple to me.
And this reality has been recognized by the leadership. Why do I say that? Due to the upcoming economic downturn that is assured, the city manager tasked city leadership to cut at least $18M from the budget. Seems like a prudent course of action given what we are about to experience financially. But where is an estimated $1M of the eighteen coming from? The Chief has ordered the end of all OT. Nobody is able to work beyond their 40 hour work week with a few exceptions like the Violent Crimes Unit and the Accident Investigation guys.
Someone is going to need to explain to me how to reconcile the Chief’s justification that during this “crisis” all police employees are needed so much so that they are not allowed to use extra leave afforded to others by EPSLA. And if manpower is at such a premium, why target OT as a mechanism to reduce the budget. It would seem to me that in a time of acute crisis, the need for more OT would be understood and justified. The best example I can remember is post-9/11. That was a real crisis for law enforcement. We were asked to work 12 on, 12 off for a few weeks. OT pay soared. This situation is the opposite. People are being asked to stay home. That means less crime, less cars on the road, less accidents, fewer people generally getting into shit and less work for the police.
Devoid of some civil uprising stemming from a continued lockdown, the slowdown in police services is going to continue until things get back to normal. To me, it’s just hard to justify not letting your employees take emergency leave should they need it because of “a time of crisis such as the one our community is facing” when the data simply does not support the rhetoric.