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Phoenix police short more than 500 officers as staffing shortage worsens

The department says there has been more interest in working for Phoenix police in both recruit and lateral transfers since the city voted to increase officer pay.

PHOENIX — Phoenix police are now 501 officers short among their ranks. 

It's part of the staffing issues that have forced the department to move officers from specialty units back to patrol to lower how long it takes them to answer 911 calls. 

Increasing vacancies 

In February, Executive Assistant Chief Mike Kurtenbach told 12 News the department was short more than 400 officers. 

At that time, 108 officers had to be moved to patrol and away from units and bureaus like drug enforcement, family investigations and violent crimes. 

"This is a crisis. This is not a minor issue," Andy Anderson, a retired Phoenix police assistant chief said. 

Anderson, who worked for 37 years at the Phoenix Police Department, said the staffing moves go beyond response times. 

"Who's following up on those investigations? When they take those initial reports, and they don't make an arrest, that starts stacking up on somebody's desk," Anderson said. "Because those detectives are overwhelmed, their caseload is higher than it's ever been." 

In March, the Phoenix City Council did approve the department to open up some civilian investigator positions to help detectives with busier, behind-the-scenes work detectives usually handle to help ease caseload burdens.

"We need a lot more of that sort of thing going on because it's not just answering that radio call. It's completing those investigations," Anderson said. 

Interest up after pay increase vote

The department said they're budgeted for 3,125 officers, but only have 2,624 officers right now. 

In a request through a Phoenix City Council spokesperson to all councilmembers, Councilwoman Ann O'Brien said in a statement to 12 News the department is also working below the minimum number of patrol officers. 

O'Brien said the department should have a minimum of 1,096 officers out on patrol but have 1,064 on the streets now. 

Last month, Phoenix City Council approved a $20,000 pay increase for new recruits and pay increases for other officers. That will take effect in August and make Phoenix Police Department home to the highest-paid officers in Arizona. 

RELATED: City council approves $20k starting salary pay increase for Phoenix officers

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the police union, told 12 News in a statement that while the pay increase will help, there's more to be done. 

"We are far from addressing the massive shortage that is impacting our community. We will continue to educate the Phoenix City Council and the public on the resources needed to keep our officers and community safe," Darrell Kriplean, PLEA's president, said in part.

Phoenix police said interest in working for the department is up since that vote, in both recruit positions and transfers from other departments. 

But Anderson notes that it takes time to train up new recruits.

"You're probably looking at at least a two-year process from somebody taking that test and becoming a solo capable police officer," Anderson said. "While that's happening, you still have police officers retiring out the other side, and some just simply walking away from the profession."

Officers continually leaving

Officers continue to retire and leave the department too, with the department saying since the end of June, 16 officers separated from the department. 

"I don't know many professions that are scrutinized as closely as policing," Anderson said. "And you're making split-second decisions with minimum information." 

O'Brien said in the statement following the vote to increase pay, that recruiters received dozens of calls from people who work with other agencies interested in working for Phoenix police. 

"We are actively working to restructure our recruitment techniques and are no longer waiting for recruits and interested parties to come to us. We are going to them! I am confident with the changes we have achieved this year alone, and everything we have planned. We are going to bounce back!" O'Brien said in the statement. 

DiCiccio told 12 News he believes that some officers are leaving Phoenix police because the department had to pull people from specialty positions and assign them back to patrol to help out on the streets. 

Recognizing that those who are currently in the academy, or working to test as a new recruit will take time to be on the streets. 

"They’re great and valuable individuals, but they’re still new, they don’t know how to handle situations like seasoned officers do," DiCiccio said. 

Anderson believes it will take time to get out of the staffing shortage.

"That will literally take years to get caught back up," Anderson said. 

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