Queen Creek Town Council may decide fate of municipal police force March 18

By Richard Dyer
Twitter: @RHDyer
Posted 3/2/20

Starting a police force, contracting with a nearby agency or continuing with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement is to be decided at the March 18 meeting of Queen Creek …

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Queen Creek Town Council may decide fate of municipal police force March 18

Posted

Starting a police force, contracting with a nearby agency or continuing with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement is to be decided at the March 18 meeting of Queen Creek Town Council.

The council is to meet at 5:30 p.m. at the Queen Creek Community Chambers, 20727 E. Civic Parkway, for ceremonial matters, committee reports and public comment before adjourning to closed-door executive sessions. Public hearings can be held at any time during the meeting.

MCSO District 6 – Queen Creek is the town’s current law-enforcement provider, at 20727 E. Civic Parkway.

The town has contracted with MCSO for law-enforcement services since 1990, growing from a quarter of one patrol beat to six beats. From the start of the contract, Queen Creek has grown from just a few thousand residents to more than 52,000, according to a comprehensive town-staff study on law enforcement discussed at the council’s Dec. 4 meeting, with no decision made.

The council requested staff conduct extensive community outreach on law-enforcement services for approximately 60 days, beginning in early 2020.

The March 18 date was set after council members learned that starting a town police force is favored by a majority of residents who provided feedback.

Of 354 individual paper or online response forms received:

  • 309 (87.3%) --- made up of 261 residents and 40 non-residents --- were in favor of starting a municipal police force.
  • 40 (11.3%) --- 31 residents and nine non-residents --- preferred maintaining a contract with MCSO.
  • Five (1.4%) --- four residents and one non-resident --- favored partnering with another agency.

According to Marnie Schubert, the town’s communications, marketing and recreation director, in addition to feedback from a survey, area residents were informed with presentations at:

  • Board, committee and other meetings;
  • Focus groups were held on Feb. 4 and 6 with faith/nonprofit, schools, businesses and citizen leaders;
  • A meeting was held Feb. 4 with homeowners associations
  • A public meeting was held Feb. 6 at the Queen Creek Performing Arts Center; and
  • Posts and videos were made to the town’s social media accounts.

“It has been a very busy two months,” Ms. Schubert said.

People favoring a municipal police force stated on the forms that they were seeking more direct control over staffing, department priorities and accountability, according to a summary she gave at the strategic planning session.

Other takeaways were that the town’s growth demands a police force rather than being a part of a larger organization that is countywide and the need for better or more community involvement, she said.

“And then the quotes, ‘We’re growing’ and ‘It’s time’ were really, really prevalent,” Ms. Schubert said.

For those in favor of continuing the contract with MCSO, themes included concerns over the cost of starting a municipal police force; they expressed that they were satisfied with the current level of service; they were concerned with the liability the town may take on when starting a police force; and some felt having a police force would take away from the hometown feel, but didn’t explain why they felt that way, Ms. Schubert said.

Councilmembers thanked Ms. Schubert and her team for their outreach efforts concerning the law-enforcement study.

“The No. 1 thing that I heard from people was, ‘Have you already made a decision and you’re just backing it up?’ And I was able to say ‘Honestly, no. We ... haven’t decided already. We really wanted to get at what did our constituents --- our residents -- want.’ And that was hugely powerful for me to be able to say that and to see it backed up,” Councilmember Robin Benning said at the strategy session discussion.

Discussion --- but no vote --- was held on the law enforcement services review. It was the second day Queen Creek Town Council and town employees attended a strategic planning session Feb. 28-29, at the Community Chambers, 20727 E. Civic Parkway.

“My desire is to come from this meeting with an idea of when we may take a vote and when the process will continue, whatever that vote may be,” Mayor Gail Barney said prior to Ms. Schubert’s presentation and council discussion. “So, I would like the council to think about the timeframe for the next step, determining whether or not we are going to take the vote,” he said.

If the council decides to change its law-enforcement provider, a transition period would be needed, Town Manager John Kross said.

“From a staff perspective, the sooner we get that direction the better,” he said. “We reserved budget capacity in order to accommodate that transition and so the expenses don’t land until next fiscal year, of course, but for some key positions, obviously the sooner we get started, the better traction we have in the transition process.” Now is the time for the council to weigh-in on the future of law-enforcement services in Queen Creek, Councilmember Jeff Brown said.

“Considering that we’ve spent the year on the study and then a 60-day outreach, I just think that the time is right to at least get it to the Town Council dais and have the council weigh-in as the residents in a large part already have,” he said.

Mayor Barney expressed his appreciation for MCSO and its deputies.

“We can’t give them enough credit for what they’ve done the last year --- 18 months --- on the extreme circumstances of being understaffed,” he said. “No matter what the vote turns out to be, it’s not a reflection on personnel in the sheriff’s department.”

Mayor Barney asked if staff would need to prepare a plan on how to proceed prior to the council vote.

“The only thing staff needs is a motion to begin the transition process. That’s sufficient for me,” Town Manager Kross said, adding that a schedule would be done to map out critical milestones such as recruiting a police chief.

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