Dem Candidate Robbed at Knifepoint Previously ‘Ignored’ Police Staffing Concerns

As mayor, Stanton championed smart urbanism projects while the Phoenix police dept. remained 'dangerously' understaffed

Greg Stanton / @gregstantonaz Twitter

Greg Stanton, the former mayor of Phoenix, Ariz., who was recently robbed at knifepoint, prioritized progressive causes over public safety during his tenure in city hall. Stanton is currently the Democratic nominee running for the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona's Ninth Congressional District.

As mayor of Phoenix between 2012 and May 2018, when he resigned to focus on his congressional bid, Stanton cut a progressive profile by blending the city's economic development priorities with an environmental sustainability agenda.

Under Stanton's mayoralty, Phoenix invested in bioscience, expanded its light rail infrastructure, and strove to curb carbon emissions by replacing streetlights with energy efficient LED light bulbs. The city also won accolades for furthering LGBTQ issues and other social justice causes.

Those developments occurred even though Phoenix was struggling to surmount the effects of the recession throughout the majority of Stanton's term in office. Phoenix, like most other major metropolitan areas that relied heavily on the real estate industry, was hit particularly hard by the crash of the U.S. housing market. As median household income shrank in Phoenix so did the revenue generated by the city's property and sales taxes.

In 2008, the city's finances became so dire that Stanton, then a member of the city council, and his colleagues were forced to cut services and institute a hiring freeze on all new government personnel, including police officers.

The hiring freeze, which lasted until 2015, only came to an end after voters approved a sales tax hike championed by Stanton to fund new infrastructure projects. With the tax base widened, Stanton and the city council were able to find the funds needed to hire over 400 new police officers to account for the growth in population and to replace the personnel lost by attrition.

By the time the freeze ended, however, the city was already dangerously understaffed. The police department's roster had fallen from a high of 3,388 in 2008 to 2,772 in 2015—a deficit of over 600 officers. Although the city made good on its promise to hire new officers, adding 477 between 2015 and January 2017, the department's staffing situation didn't improve.

As a result of more police personnel retiring than being hired, the city's total manpower numbered only 2,850 police officers as of April 2018—over 500 fewer officers than 2008.

Furthermore, the police department continued to hemorrhage personnel even though Phoenix's population experienced exponential growth, even surpassing Philadelphia as the nation's fifth largest city in 2017.

The impact of the police shortage has begun to be felt across the city.

In between 2016 and 2017, the violent crime rate in Phoenix grew at a rate nearly double the national average, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Apart from increasing crime, the city's homicide clearance rate has also plummeted from a high of nearly 90 percent in 2013 to just below 60 percent in 2017.

This past weekend Stanton himself was the victim of a crime. As denoted by information released to the public, Stanton was walking back to his car after finishing dinner in downtown Phoenix when he was approached by what appeared to be a homeless man.

"I assumed he was probably going through a difficult time—experiencing homelessness— and was going to ask for money," Stanton relayed to the Arizona Republic. "I will often provide them with resources."

The individual, who was wielding a "hatchet-like" weapon, demanded money and motioned for Stanton to accompany him to a darker area of the street.

"I realized this was much more serious than him just asking for money," Stanton said.

The candidate reportedly told the individual to take his wallet before running back to the restaurant to call the police.

The Phoenix police department is actively pursuing the matter and as of yet, no one has been charged. The department did not return requests for comment on this story.

Stanton told the Washington Free Beacon he was thankful for the response initiated by law enforcement and that although the incident he faced was "scary," it would not deter him from going about his life.

"I was not hurt," Stanton said. "I want to thank the Phoenix Police Department for the very fast response of our officers, and for handling the case with such professionalism."

While the overwhelming response to the robbery was sympathetic, it also underscored the police staffing issues that have beleaguered the city since the recession and escalated during Stanton's tenure at the helm of city government.

This was best exhibited by the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) on Monday when the organization took to social media to note the irony behind Stanton's robbery.

"How ironic that the man who helped run Phoenix into the ground by not advocating for sufficient police staffing is now a victim of that choice?" PLEA wrote.

The organization, which represents around 2,400 police officers in the Phoenix metropolitan area, was previously supportive of Stanton's mayoral campaigns but is now backing his Republican opponent, Dr. Steve Ferrara, for Congress.

PLEA's president, Ken Crane, told the Free Beacon his group had grown disenchanted with Stanton because of what it viewed as his unwillingness to push for the resources to alleviate the burdens under which the city's police officers were laboring to preserve public safety.

"Ironically, we backed his run for mayor and he turned out not to be very helpful," Crane said. "In his first four years in office, he didn't do a heck of a whole lot to ensure the city got the police officers it needed." 

Crane asserted that Stanton's priorities at city hall neglected the topics most important to the lives of everyday citizens.

"As mayor, Greg Stanton focused on light rail expansion, bike lanes, and LED streetlights," Crane said. "He focused on all of the minor issues that look glitzy while he ignored those, such as public safety, that are central to a vibrant city." 

Stanton's campaign did not return follow-up requests for comment about his record on public safety or PLEA's criticisms. Nonetheless, the candidate has in the past heralded his work with the city council to hire 400 new police officers.

Crane said such comments were misleading as they didn't take into account the entire picture.

"Here's the problem, politicians will jump to take credit for putting more police officers on the street," Crane said. "Conveniently most leave out the number of police officers that were lost through attrition. That's been the case in Phoenix."