A major mistake by the Maricopa Police Department in July earned a live apology from the police chief.
“We messed up,” he announced at his monthly Coffee with the Chief, which is carried on the department’s Facebook page and generally involves information on current events and safety tips for the community.
It was a mea culpa from a department that does not like to air details of its inner workings in personnel matters.
Maricopa Unified School District allowed MPD to carry out training exercises on the Butterfield Elementary campus during the summer break. The July 3 training involved a K-9 searching for narcotics, but one small packet was inadvertently left behind in a room, an error that was not discovered until after school started.
“It’s our fault,” Chief Steve Stahl said. “This is on us.”
Superintendent Tracey Lopeman notified parents of the situation July 25 after the school had to go into “shelter-in-place” mode while police searched the premises. She said the district would re-evaluate its agreement with MPD.
As Lopeman and Stahl both said the relationship was important, MPD was re-evaluating, too.
“From a department standpoint, we are going to evaluate our policies and procedures to make sure that they are up to standards with other agencies that have K-9 programs,” MPD spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said.
Though Stahl apologized to Lopeman personally, he said he needed to apologize to her, the staff, students, parents and community publicly because of the potential of what could have happened.
It turned out a teacher had discovered the packet, wrapped and reportedly looking like an old sandwich, on July 15 and threw it out.
“We have higher expectations of ourselves and have taken measures to correct the issue,” Stahl said.
He said if any good came out of the situation it was that no children were ever in any danger because the school was out during the time between the training and the discovery of the narcotics.
“I can tell you this; the officer involved in this scenario has children, has children that attend MUSD schools, and is extremely remorseful for what occurred and has taken full responsibility,” Stahl said. “And we will press on from here.”
He expressed regret that parents experienced added apprehension and stress over the incident. “For that, we apologize, and we will do better.”
This story appears in part in the September issue of InMaricopa. For clarification, MPD released information publicly about what occurred at Butterfield shortly after MUSD informed parents of the situation.