Sep 15, 2022 - News

New Phoenix Police Chief Michael Sullivan pledges reform, crime fighting

A man in a suit sitting under studio lights.

Interim Phoenix police chief Michael Sullivan. Photo: Jessica Boehm/Phoenix

Michael Sullivan started as interim Phoenix police chief Monday, a role he could hold for up to two years following the retirement of former chief Jeri Williams.

Catch up fast: The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Phoenix Police Department for numerous civil rights violations.

  • City manager Jeff Barton said he hired an interim chief to see the city through the investigation. After that, he will conduct a nationwide search for a permanent leader, he said.
  • Sullivan, who previously served as a deputy commissioner in Baltimore, helped that department enact the mandates of its 2017 federal consent decree, which stemmed from a DOJ investigation.

State of play: We got to sit down with Sullivan on Wednesday. Here's what he told us.

On the temporary assignment: He said he left his permanent gig for an interim one because he wanted to help Phoenix implement reforms that will propel the department forward.

  • "(It was) the opportunity to come here and be able to leverage my skills with the great men and women of the Phoenix Police Department and this terrific community."
  • He would not say whether he plans to pursue the permanent chief position.

On the DOJ investigation: Sullivan said the nature of the investigation creates an adversarial relationship between the city and the DOJ, but it doesn't need to be that way.

  • "Reform is about self-assessing, self-correcting and continual improvement. That's what the Department of Justice is, I believe, looking for when they talk about reform. And that's what I'm looking for."

On violent crime: He said addressing rising levels of violent crime is a priority and he will focus on the "small percentage" of people who are causing problems and deploy resources to the "most violent places."

  • "I truly believe that reform and crime fighting are not mutually exclusive. And as a matter of fact, they're dependent on each other if you're going to do it right."

On police unions: Sullivan said he's been in touch with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association since his hiring and will work collaboratively with it.

  • "What I promised them is, we won't always agree, but we're going to have an open line of communication."
  • PLEA told us last month that the city did not ask its members for their input on Sullivan before hiring him.

1 fun thing to go: When asked if he'd be switching his football allegiance from the Baltimore Ravens to the Arizona Cardinals, he said yes.

  • But that's because he's a two-time graduate of the University of Louisville, where the mascot is — you guessed it — a cardinal.

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