I’ve been accused more than once of being an “apologist” for law enforcement, for my former agency, Scottsdale Police, and for individual officers involved in controversial incidents. I usually hear the term “Thin Blue Line” tossed around as a pejorative, meaning law enforcement keeps quiet to protect their own. As I’ve always said, while I’m sure that behavior is a part of the law enforcement profession in some places, it couldn’t have been a more distant a concept in my police career. My law enforcement experience was quite the opposite.
My LE experience was dominated by destructive competitiveness, careerism, tribalism and a leadership ethos more concerned for one’s own organizational standing, than for each other, or the mission. This was especially true if you were outside the “Circle of Trust”, stealing from Meet the Parents. Getting outside that circle was easy. A single disagreement with a supervisor about a tactical decision or voicing a concern about an organizational policy got you outside the Circle. Once outside, your career was either frozen in place or it was ended. Just ask Aaron Minor.
No wonder why, when an email found its way to me, I didn’t find it surprising, but it did piss me off, like it must have a number of others. You can always tell how much a thing pisses off the employees at my old organization by the number of people that pass it around. Judging by the number of people that forwarded me this email chain, it made quite a negative impression. But remember, according to the current Chief, his decisions have no effect on morale.
An Officer’s Request
The email is simple, an officer with 18 months on at Scottsdale made the decision to leave the organization and lateral to Glendale PD. Why? Because he lives in Glendale and had to commute an hour each way. This was taking time away from his family and with the inclusion of a new baby that has medical issues, he needs to redirect that wasted commute time to family responsibilities. When getting ready to leave the officer had requested to keep his Scottsdale badge to “one day build a shadow box to commemorate my time spent as a police officer” and so that his children will “be proud of me and the noble profession that I chose.”
Some background, while Jeff Walther was Deputy Chief, he helped institute a policy that in order to keep your physical badge upon leaving the organization, you had to have at least two years of service with Scottsdale and be in good standing. Based on this policy, when the officer asked for his badge, he was denied. Therefore, he reached out directly to the Chief, through an email, asking for an exception. You can view the full email sent by the officer here.
The Snarky Reply
Here was Chief Walter’s reply:
What a zinger. For starters, a confident and contrite leader would have simply given the employee his best wishes, pointed to the policy and denied the request. But not this Chief. He used this as an opportunity to take jabs at the officer, his decision, the organization he was moving to and his ability to adhere to “commitments”.
The officer states that his decision was “purely motivated by my family and doing what’s best for us.” Walther touches on the “family comes first” mantra, often repeated in law enforcement circles, but hardly ever followed or considered at the end of the day. If family really did come first, cops might not have some of the highest divorce and suicided rates of all professions. If family did come first, maybe, so many children of police officers wouldn’t struggle with behavioral, drugs and mental health issues. Not having one or both parents home at night, on the weekends, and on holidays takes a toll. But more about family comes first later.
Walther then makes sure to let the officer know that he had a similar commute early in his career . . . and made it work . . . hero. Wonder where he lives now?! Bingo, Scottsdale. No commute anymore. Furthermore, Walther was still living in rural Arizona when he was asked to take the position of interim chief. He had a 200+ drive every weekend. To help relive the burden of the commute, the City of Scottsdale provided him a city vehicle . . . a 4×4 actually. How many tax dollars were spent on this? So, please don’t lecture others on issues surrounding their commute or steps taken mitigate the burden of it.
The Past is The Past
Then he writes, “growing up in the Valley I knew how much better Scottsdale PD was versus any other department in the Valley.” I grew up in Calumet City, IL, blue collar suburb south of Chicago. I was told that the Cal City police was the best, mainly by my grandmother that was a dispatcher there. Then I grew up and became a cop myself. In retrospect, the Calumet City Police Department was a disaster. They had mob ties, employed several overtly racist cops, and would be embroiled in a number of controversies through the 1990s and early-2000s. Point being, because you were told a thing and believed it, when you were younger, does not make that thing true then or twenty years later. While this notion of Scottsdale PD’s superiority among other Valley agencies might have been true once, it might not be the case anymore. At least it’s hard for me to make that argument when people ask me. It’s still a really good department, with really, really good line-level people. I would put their average officer up against any officer at any other state agency. It’s the leadership that brings the place down.
When I started thinking about going into LE in 1997, I did a ton of research. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a cop, thus I was not willing to take a job with any agency that would give me one. I kind of fell into it through a chance encounter with a childhood mentor of mine, who was an officer in Scottsdale. After weeks of research I determined Scottsdale PD probably was the most professional agency in the Valley at the time, a good fit for me, and if I didn’t get hired on by them, I probably would not have decided on a law enforcement career.
Why did Scottsdale PD resonate with me?
First, SPD was the second highest paying agency in the Valley next to DPS. Scottsdale also had much more stringent hiring standards, thus ensuring a higher quality of officer. When I got hired you had to have a Bachelor’s Degree, period. It was the only agency in the Valley which required this (maybe Tempe PD did this too?). Our physical fitness standards were higher, using age and gender-based standards. Then you had gear. Scottsdale provided all your gear which was significant, as other agencies were asking young, new officers, to shell out up to $2000 for their own gear, that you couldn’t keep if you didn’t make it through the training process. Overall, it just seemed to be a more professional organization. They seemed to say out of the news. They seemed to have very little in the way of controversies. 96% of their citizens supported them by polling. Time are a little different today.
What changed? On paper, Scottsdale sits 4th in pay. But, that’s starting pay and tells little of the story. When you look at the step program, or how fast an officer reaches top pay, they move down the list. When you look at incentive pay, from being an FTO, working nights, merit pay and education bonuses, all factors that determine lifetime earning, Scottsdale places towards the lower tier of Valley agencies. This issue really make Scottsdale a less competitive agency vis-à-vis it’s competitors. SPD leadership recognized this. They drafted a report about it in 2015. Since then the city has “nickle and dimed” the officers with small COLAs and merit increases, but never overhauled the salary ranges to make them competitive, especially for an agency that boasts “how much better Scottsdale PD” is than the rest.
Focus on the Now
But the City and leadership that still believe they are far superior to their peers and have rested on these laurels. This has caused issues with getting and retaining officers, which might ultimately be the underlying cause of this snarky email. Increasing numbers of officer are leaving for other agencies, which was unheard of during my time there. The migration started just before I retired but, it was still a somewhat unique event for a Scottsdale officer to lateral to an agency within the Valley. Now, it’s relatively common. Officers that do leave usually cited two things, the first being pay and the second being the overall culture at Scottsdale. What I’m hearing is different now are the number of officer making lateral moves, pay-wise, to other organizations like Gilbert, Mesa and Chandler.
Then there is the battle for out-of-state laterals, which they have not been as successful at as they had hoped. This is probably because other agencies have signing bonuses, where Scottsdale has been resistant to them. Phoenix offers up to $7,500. Chandler $10,000. Glendale $10,000. Tempe $5,000. Scottsdale, $0. This resistance may be partly due to the “how much better Scottsdale PD” is mindset of the Chief. How’s that working out for ya all?
Maybe, just maybe the realities are starting to set in. After all, Walther does write that he intends to help the organization “moving forward over the next year or two putting us in the top position in Valley law enforcement once again.” This might be the case, but there does not seem to be much urgency to get this accomplished. The City has yet to vote on any serious salary increases. They have been resistant to signing bonuses. They delayed a vote on extending DROP, and with the delay, have lost a few officers that wished to take advantage of it. I hope they get back up there one day, but for an officer with less than about five years on, who can get paid the same, or more, while living closer to or working in his or her own community, its enticing to make the move.
Then we get Walther’s dose of “frank honesty”, which I think is absolutely the best illustration of how leadership at Scottsdale sees its people and what happens when they fall outside the Circle of Trust. Walter’s email tone is basically fuck you and don’t expect any favors.
First of all, officers are not “jumping around from agency to agency throughout the Valley.” A small number of officers in the Valley are making a personal decision to do what they think is best for them “after much torment and thought.” It is a very small number of officers that ever work between more than two agencies. I’d be surprised if there are currently more than a dozen of them across the state.
Oh god, then you have this . . .
“Wearing or owning a Scottsdale badge, to me, is about honor, sacrifice, dedication, and loyalty to an organization that makes the very same commitment to its employees.” I had to stop typing to wipe the water off my keyboard. I’m laughing so hard at this stupid statement that I’m crying.
The City of Scottsdale and the Scottsdale Police Department will never sacrifice as much as the individual does for the organization. A police officer’s average age of death is 25 years less than the national average. We have a 69% increase in suicide vs the public. We have a higher rate of cancer. Our Divorce rate is 60-75%. Add in the chances of serious injury, death and life long chronic health conditions. The city sacrificed their tax dollars to pay me. Outside of that, I don’t remember the city making any sacrifices for me.
Let’s talk loyalty from the organization. Anyone that was, or still is there, can tell stories about how they were told they “had to earn their job everyday”, how “everybody is replaceable” and how they had their position, job title, pay and work hours turned upside down for “the good of the organization”. By the way, a “for the good of the organization” transfer is the legal way of saying, you pissed off the leadership and they are now you’re going to pay for it. Not the greatest way to build trust in the loyalty of the organization towards its employees.
If Scottsdale was committed to their employees they wouldn’t have initially denied their cops access to additional sick time during Covid from the Federal government. Then, when asked about the decision by a representative of the organization’s police officers (POSA), the Chief indirectly threaten to fire anyone who disagreed when he wrote in a email, “Perhaps you and the membership of POSA would like to identify those employees who you feel are not essential and forward your recommendations to me. Hopefully, I will not have to make difficult decisions when this is over, but I will take your recommendations under advisement.” To be fair, this wasn’t Walther, but the former narcissistic megalomaniac chief, Alan Rodbell, who thinks he’s never done anything wrong in his life. Again, not a great way to show organizational loyalty to its people.
If the perception of the organization really was that they make the “same commitment to its employees,” they might not have the number of cops jumping ship to other organizations. Trust me on this.
Yes, Scottsdale did put forward “time, effort, energy, and expense . . . to making you a member of the Scottsdale Police Department”, but it was not “for naught”. It will help this officer moving forward in through his LE career, it will help him serve the people of Glendale better and hopefully will help keep this officer safer. What a pompous statement. It illustrates how the organization sees its people . . . as a cog in the wheel, there to only serve the city. Once that service stops, especially prematurely, it was all “for naught”.
I can tell you from working in the private sector since 2018, with an extremely large corporation, that attitude towards their people doesn’t fly. The group at my new job has had a number of people move to other organizations. Each one was treated with respect when they moved on and if they left in good standing, were invited to come back. A few did come back with no hard feelings.
And no, the officer’s decision to move does not violate “the commitment that we had with one another when you signed on the dotted line to become a Scottsdale Police Officer”. Why? Because there is no such commitment. Funny, I don’t remember seeing that in the contract when I signed the hiring papers. I don’t remember ever promising that Chief that I would stay at Scottsdale. I don’t remember being turned into some indentured servant for the City, having to pay off the debts I accumulated when I took the job.
And what about “family comes first”?
Family first means just that, family first. If that means if an officer decides to move to a different organization “purely motivated by my family and doing what’s best for us,” wish them well and part ways. Don’t write some condescending email where you blast his decision, the motivation for it and the organization that he’s moving to. Seriously!?!?!
This issue about the badge is small and petty. The underlying message that permeates the reply to the former employee is not, and the perception it gives current employees is not. An officer is making a change to better his family circumstances and wants to take his badge as a memory of his time at Scottsdale PD. The message to him by the head of the organization is, effectively, you are a traitor and this organization’s last move is to punish your traitorous behavior by the exercising the last vestige of authority it’s going to have over you . . . now piss off!
If you have any doubt about the mentality of the leadership there all you need to do is look at the record of those in their leadership who went onto higher level jobs at other organizations. What happens when they take “the Scottsdale way” of management with them?
Steve Gessell moved to Chief at San Luis Obispo PD, where he was accused of using city funds to pay for travel expenses for his family. He was removed as Chief a short time later.
Amid Low Morale And High Turnover, Casa Grande Police Chief Resigns. Johnny Cervantes lasted less than two years at Casa Grande. He took with him JR Parrow, who also resigned.
John Cocca and Michael Rosenberger, two high ranking Scottsdale leaders went on to run the AZ Department of Liquor: Both Top Leaders at the Arizona Liquor Department Quietly Resign. Why? Because they were tipped off by, wait for it . . . Scottsdale leadership about a criminal investigation involving an undercover DPS detective. Cocca and Rosenberger were then found to funneled information, given to them by Scottsdale, to the detective in order to help him with his internal investigation. Side note, the Scottsdale detective running the investigation, who was critical of information leak, was removed from her investigative role and knocked back to a Patrol Officer “for the good of the department.” No Scottsdale leader was ever held accountable.
Carrie Candler left Scottsdale to be a Commander with Gilbert. She would be fired a few years later because of her “communication style and abrasiveness”. No shit Sherlock. All Gilbert had to do was look at her history at Scottsdale to be able to predict this.
And I’m not trying to be critical of the people above, expect for Candler. I liked most of them. The issue is that the leadership style that they learned in Scottsdale, and which is accepted by Scottsdale, doesn’t fly in most places. Treating people outside the circle of trust with disdain, while protecting those within it, gets you fired at other places.
There have been only three Scottsdale leaders that left the department to run other organizations and were successful. Successful, meaning they didn’t get their asses fired. Bartosh, Smythe and Duggan were the only three I can remember having success. Duggan has been the most successful, really making a name for Chandler PD which, ironically, has had a number Scottsdale officer lateral over there.
My point is, if Scottsdale did a good job a creating and mentoring good leaders and leadership styles, their former people wouldn’t have such an abysmal record running other places.
Here is how I would have replied if I was the Chief:
I’m sorry to see you leave. I regret to hear about the health of your newborn. Family does come first, and while I wish the Scottsdale Police Department would have been a better fit for you and your family, I understand your decision and the difficulty you must have had making your choice to move to Glendale. Glendale will be happy to have you and I hope you find the move beneficial. Please take the lessons you learned from here and use them to serve the people of Glendale and the organization.
Take your badge as a memory of your time here. I have forwarded a note to those involved that you have been exempted from the policy. Hopefully, one day you will decide to come back to us, at which time you can wear that badge again.
Sincerely, The Chief
It’s not hard to treat people right. It’s not hard to treat people like you would wish to be treated.
To this Chief and anybody else in leadership . . . your decisions do matter. They do alter morale, both good and bad. To deny that is to shirk responsibility when morale plummets. That’s a tell-tale sign of poor leadership.
Bottom line, you gotta be some special type of asshole, lacking any humility, to reply to a simple, heart-felt request from an employee, trying to do what is best for him and his family, with the kind of email you read above. As this gets around, do you think it will help attract new officers, or is it counterproductive to the organization?
UPDATE: 48 hours after posting this, the City of Scottsdale signed Resolution No. 12558, which levies a financial penalty on any officer wishing to leave the department before four years of service. I guess the Chief got his wish. Now you DO have to sign a legal commitment to him.