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Phoenix police chief reassigned amid stats review

Scrutiny over 'mislabeled' kidnapping statistics that were used to win a federal grant

Associated Press

PHOENIX — Phoenix's police chief has been removed from day-to-day operations of the department amid scrutiny over kidnapping statistics that were used to win a federal grant, city officials announced Thursday.

City Manager David Cavazos said at a news conference that Jack Harris will have the same salary and work under the title of public safety manager.

"It was unfortunate for me to learn on Monday that some of the kidnapping statistics were mislabeled," Cavazos said. "It is my responsibility to make sure that we get all of the facts together and learn exactly what happened in this situation, from data collection to data entry to final reports."

The move comes a day after an angry Harris told reporters he was outraged by calls for him to step down.

"If there is anybody in this community that does not believe that we have a kidnapping/home invasion problem in this community, they either just got off the bus today or they've been living under a rock," he said at a crime scene on Wednesday.

"I've been accused of doing something wrong because I went to the federal government and said 'Give me money to help me protect the community and protect my officers," he said. "Well I've got news for you — if I did something wrong by doing that, stand by, because I'm going to do it again and again and again as long as I'm wearing this uniform."

He then pointed to his uniform and said: "Anyone that wants these stars can come and get them."

U.S. Justice Department auditors are reviewing Phoenix's numbers, and the city has frozen any spending of the $1.7 million in grant money, which would support a squad that investigates kidnappings.

In Phoenix, people tied to immigrant and drug smuggling are kidnapped and held for ransom although there are no accurate numbers on how often that occurs. Phoenix police had reported that there were a record 359 kidnappings in Phoenix in 2008, and said they believed many of them were related to smuggling.

National media, politicians and others often have used that figure to bring attention to kidnappings in Phoenix, calling Phoenix the No. 2 kidnapping capital of the world.

But on Monday, a statement from the police department said an audit showed that "there are reports that do not belong in these statistics" and that numerous other reports were not included in the kidnapping statistics but should have been."
Harris was at the Thursday news conference. He didn't speak and declined to answer reporters' questions.

Phoenix's executive assistant chief, Joe Yahner, will serve as acting police chief while a group of independent experts reviews the department's reporting processes and kidnapping statistics.

Assistant City Manager Ed Zuercher said the independent audit will be conducted by a group of "acknowledged, independent experts in the field of criminology, statistics, audit and law enforcement," although he said the group has not yet been formed. The audit will be finished within two months, he said.

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