It’s no secret that the Arizona State University Police Department has been pummeled by the media as of late.
Media outlets, such as The Arizona Republic, have publicly dissected several problems which have plagued ASUPD for years–staffing, and morale, to name a few. In turn, this has raised many questions about ASUPD’s legitimacy as a fully functioning police department in the eyes of both university employees and the public .
In a typical university knee-jerk reaction, ASU created mandatory training for all PD employees to address these issues of “legitimacy”. This “‘training” was comprised of two 4 hour sessions for the whole department, and was done by university employees with no PD affiliation or experience.
The presenters discussed generalized issues such as being nice to the public, community policing, and the unique environment of university policing. The presenters, however, failed to explain why ASUPD has lost legitimacy with its own employees/staff/public, and also how to fix the problems at hand. Many employees sensed this obvious gap in logic and voiced their concerns to the staff conducting the training, only to be met with blank stares. Evidently, the university did not anticipate any type of backlash.
What the university fails to fully understand is that the legitimacy issue is NOT caused by ground-level employees; it stems from a lack of quality people in leadership positions within the department. If you fail to employ a command structure that has accountability, ethics, and common sense, you have nothing more than a state funded gang using and abusing employees on a whim. Normal people cannot stomach working in this type of dysfunctional environment for an extended period of time, so the employee turnover rate and new employee hiring rate continue to skyrocket in tandem.
Poor leadership is obviously one contributor to ASUPD’s legitimacy problem, but not the main cause. What are other recent factors/events that have eroded ASUPD’s legitimacy as a fully functioning police department?
- Free Speech:
- For years, there has been a lot of preferential treatment and problem employees within ASUPD that Command Staff simply refused to address or deal with. Several employees became frustrated at the lack of outlet they had to voice their concerns, so they created a blog for anonymous online discussion called The Integrity Report. This discussion involved the posting of emails, memorandums, and policy manuals (which are all accessible to the public via a Freedom of Information Act request, or FOIA). Airing ASU’s dirty laundry caused administrators for the department and university to panic and attempt to shut down the indeed.com postings as well as The Integrity Report, citing “safety and security issues”. (It is quite ironic that in its quest to shut down and discredit The Integrity Report, ASU has actually further damaged its legitimacy as a law enforcement/academic institution, instead of preserving it.)
- Having a convenient scapegoat:
- When the public was enraged at the situation involving Assistant Professor Ursula Ore and Officer Stuart Ferrin, ASU needed a someone to blame so it could distance itself from the problem and maintain its legitimacy. Both Chief Pickens and Officer Ferrin took the brunt of the public lashing, with Chief Pickens resigning shortly after the Ore debacle.
- Media exposure:
- It is impossible for a department to maintain its validity when the media starts investigating and contradicting all of the department’s logic with hard facts and documentation (see the September 21st, 2014 edition of The Arizona Republic for an example). Even worse, the university attempted to redact information released to The Arizona Republic under the guise of “embarrassment”. The extensive media coverage of ASUPD’s repeated missteps has caused nearly irreparable damage to the department’s credibility as a law enforcement agency.
- Public guffaws:
- The department and university damaged its own legitimacy when they made major public guffaws, such as ASU’s HR head sending out threatening emails, the interim Chief sending out frantic late night emails, and releasing employee’s personal identifying information in a FOIA request. These are a few recent examples in which ASUPD made itself look bad, unassisted.
- Intentionally misleading the public:
- Intentionally misleading the public is another perfect example of ASUPD damaging its own legitimacy. ASUPD mislead the public into thinking there were more patrol officers working the street when they told ABC15 they had 78 officers working patrol. The truth is, the majority of those 78 officers do not work patrol (most are in administrative or supervisory positions), and some had not yet even completed field training. In another circumstance, ASUPD mislead the public into believing the department was getting ready to equip all its officers with M-16 rifles; in reality, ASUPD already had the rifles for two years prior to the media coverage, and had no intention of deploying the weapons any time soon. (ASUPD eventually returned the rifles back to DPS).
- Repeatedly failing to acknowledge and address problems:
- ASUPD still refuses to acknowledge any wronging on its behalf throughout the past year and a half of its public exposure. This would include admitting to staffing problems, cliques, and refusing to deal with problem employees, among other things. Admitting fault does not make the department look weak; it shows the department had enough insight to fix the issue and move forward. On the other hand, failing to acknowledge the 1000-pound elephant in the room does not make the department appear “composed”, it makes the department look like jackasses. Furthermore, when the department fails to acknowledge and address ANY problems, it makes the department appear out of touch and calls into question the legitimacy of its actions.
The “legitimacy” training did not even come close to discussing the above mention issues as possible reasons why the public does not view ASUPD as a “legitimate” law enforcement agency. The training was given by people working in civilian positions with no police department experience in any capacity, and who offered no actual plan on how to create legitimacy for the ASU Police Department. They should have titled the training, “Please believe in the future! The university is in explosive growth, and we don’t know what we are doing!”
ASU, since you are unable or unwilling to fix ASUPD’s problems internally, we will do it for you with continued exposure and public pressure. It won’t be pretty.
As always, stand by folks.