Amid staffing shortages, Az Republicans mull mandating police response times
Arizona police departments have been struggling for years to hire enough officers, but one Republican legislator says that’s no reason the state shouldn’t require that they respond to calls sooner — and punish them if they don’t hit the state mandate.
Rep. Matt Gress, a Republican from Phoenix, is pushing a bill that would require every Arizona city and town to have an average response time of no more than five minutes to all emergency calls.
Doing so would require expanding police forces at a time when law enforcement agencies nationwide, including in Arizona, have been unable to fill current positions.
Those staffing challenges are even more acute in rural Arizona, critics say, and Gress’ proposal would cause more harm than good.
“When you set up these arbitrary bills, you’re setting rural communities up for failure,” said Barry Aarons, a lobbyist for the city of Prescott.
Many times, rural communities have a lot of ground to cover with limited officers.
Gress’ proposal would be impossible in some tribal communities, said Rep. Myron Tsosie, a Democrat from Chinle. The Navajo Nation Police Department has only five officers to cover 300 square miles around his town, he said.
“How do they respond to all those calls in under five minutes?” he wondered, noting that it sometimes takes days for police to respond to calls on the Navajo Nation.
Gress said the issue was raised by many of his constituents, and he characterized his legislation as “part of a larger effort to provide critical resources to law enforcement.” He explained that violent crime rates are at an all time high and that “this bill backs the blue by helping set targets for cities and towns to budget for the blue.” It’s unclear what crime statistics Gress was referring to: Murder rates are down sharply from the 1990s, and crime data from large American cities shows violent crimes were generally lower last year than the year before.
Joe Clure, the executive director of the Arizona Police Association, represents approximately 12,000 Arizona law enforcement members and praised the bill as “very impactful to citizens requesting our emergency response.”
He explained that, if police officers can arrive to calls within five minutes, it would mean that the number of officers is sufficient and that officers would be safer.
“Standards in our industry are lacking,” Clure said .
Other parts of House Bill 2418 direct the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission (ACJC) to set one standard of rules and guidelines on the emergency response time, and require cities and towns to provide their response times to the ACJC annually.
If a municipality fails to meet the five-minute requirement within the first year, they would have to propose a plan of action to the ACJC and will have one more year to get their response time to five minutes. If they still don’t make that time, then they would be required to notify their residents about their response time.
The legislation was debated by the House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee on Feb. 6, but the panel did not vote on it.
The bill is scheduled to be heard again on Feb. 13, where an amendment will be proposed to create a study committee to look further into this issue.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.