Unions Urge Ouster Of Phoenix Police Chief

PHOENIX, AZ – Phoenix police unions on Monday jointly called for a vote of “no confidence” for Phoenix Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia, a rarely used device to signal unrest among officers and to urge the ouster of the department’s leader.

The vote was spurred by the suicide of former Officer Craig Tiger, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and later fired for a DUI, but union officials say Tiger’s death is symptomatic of a larger pattern of low morale among the rank and file and a culture of “tyrannical” leadership by Garcia.

Garcia issued a statement in response to the vote that said the circumstances surrounding Tiger’s death were extremely unfortunate.

“The Phoenix Police Department wishes to express our condolences to his family and, out of respect for them, we will not be commenting further about this issue until funeral services are complete,” Garcia said.

The unions will collect votes from their members throughout the next month and plan to present their findings to City Manager Ed Zuercher.

It’s not unusual for Phoenix police unions to clash with leadership, but Monday’s announcement marked only the second time in the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association’s 40-year history that the union had called for a vote of no confidence for the department’s head, according to union officials.

A “no confidence” vote is not binding but acts as a barometer for the city manager to gauge the rank and file’s trust in its chief.

PLEA President Joe Clure said more details to emerge in the following weeks will illustrate the chief’s totalitarianism, including leadership decisions, a refusal to accept outside input or ideas and a pattern of retaliation.

Clure said he regrets only that he waited this long to put it to a vote.

“I have taken a lot of heat from a lot of officers, saying, ‘What are we waiting on?'” he said.

Clure said the last time labor leaders coordinated a “no confidence” vote was for Ruben Ortega, who eventually retired in 1991 after a power struggle with the Phoenix City Council, according to Phoenix Gazette archives.

Labor leaders have publicly clashed with Garcia several times since he was named chief in March 2012, with issues ranging from a new uniform policy to controversial command-staff reassignments.

In a written response for comment on the no-confidence vote, Zuercher said he is listening to the broader issues being raised by the unions.

“I am talking to both sides to get all the facts and listen to all perspectives and will not rush to judgment on such a critical matter,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to address and work through the concerns brought to my attention.”

The police chief’s employment is at the discretion of the city manager, who reports to the City Council.

“I am confident that the vote will show that the employees of the Phoenix Police Department are looking for a change in leadership,” Sean Mattson, president of the Phoenix Police Sergeants and Lieutenants Association, said in a prepared statement Monday morning.

The unions’ sentiments mirrored those of Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who on Saturday called Garcia’s removal.

In the wake of Tiger’s death, PPSLA and PLEA last week sent a letter to Zuercher demanding that the Police Department do more to address its officers suffering from PTSD.

Zuercher responded specifically to the PTSD call to action Monday, enlisting a panel of subject-matter experts and community leaders to identify changes that need to be made in the city’s programs and training.

A service for Tiger is scheduled for this afternoon.

According to Tiger’s family and the officers’ union, Tiger’s PTSD originated from a 2012 on-duty shooting. He was arrested for DUI in June 2013 while he was on the way to kill himself, union leaders said.

Tiger was diagnosed with PTSD after his arrest. Union officials said documentation of the diagnosis was presented to Garcia during Tiger’s termination hearing for the DUI but said the information fell on deaf ears and Tiger was fired.

Tiger was found dead last week of an apparent pill overdose, according to family.

His death sparked a debate on whether Phoenix police administrators do enough to treat PTSD within the department, a condition often triggered by the job itself.

In broader terms, union leaders say, Garcia’s heavy-handed approach to discipline has created a totalitarian regime, resulting in an unparalleled level of low morale.

Garcia enacted a no-tolerance policy for officers arrested for DUIs months after his March 2012 appointment. The change coincided with a change in practice regarding DUIs at the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, AZPOST Executive Director Lyle Mann said.

In March 2012, AZPOST began uniformly suspending the certifications of any officer who was arrested on suspicion of a DUI, regardless of whether he or she had been terminated. Agency policies varied before this change, Mann said, but have since become more stringent since an officer suspended for three to six months is of little use to a department.

In an earlier interview with The Arizona Republic, Garcia defended his department’s mental-health support structure, pointing to a host of programs, including a critical-incident stress-management team, peer-support programs and intervention programs.

Garcia said he has dual responsibilities as the leader of the police to address the needs of his officers and the safety of Phoenix’s citizens.

“There is no officer that can stand behind mental-health issues or substance-abuse issues and use that as a defense on a criminal violation,” Garcia said.

From The Arizona Republic

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