Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell is retiring

Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell is retiring

By Wayne Schutsky

Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell will retire on December 1, ending 17 years as the city’s top cop.

The Scottsdale Police Department announced the retirement on October 2, stating Rodbell is leaving the post to “pursue an opportunity in the private sector.”

A department spokesman did not respond to a request for more information on Rodbell’s new position.

Rodbell became Scottsdale’s sixth police chief when he took the job in 2003 and went on to have the second-longest tenure of any chief for the city, following only Walter Nemetz, who held the post for 19 years from 1963 to 1982.

“As an internationally recognized leader in community partnerships and law enforcement, Chief Rodbell is leaving a true legacy of excellence in policing,” City Manager Jim Thompson says. “We wish him all the best in his future endeavors, and he will be greatly missed.”

The retirement also marks an end to Rodbell’s 45-year career in law enforcement.

He started as a patrol officer with Maryland’s Montgomery County Department of Police in 1976 and rose to the level of assistant chief before retiring in 2002 to take the same position in Scottsdale.

In 2003, Rodbell took over a department in flux following the firing of former Chief Doug Bartosh, who was let go for lack of leadership in addressing outdated technology and crime response.

By all accounts, Rodbell responded to these concerns after taking over the department.

Just months after Rodbell took over in 2003, the newly created Repeat Offenders Program unit made 19 felony arrests, shut down a regional counterfeiting ring and recovered $45,000 in stolen property.

The city also saw a downtick in crime after Rodbell took over in 2003, with some in department citing improved technology for helping crack down on property crimes.

Between 2004 and 2014, annual property crimes in Scottsdale dropped from nearly 9,000 to 5,301, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting statistics.

Annual violent crimes in the city also dropped from 468 to 362 over that 10-year period.

Some crime statistics have ticked up recently in Scottsdale.

Total violent crimes in the city rose from 396 to 422 between 2017 and 2018, the second straight year of increases.

Property crimes, which decreased by 4% between 2016 and 2017, also jumped, going from 5,470 in 2017 to 5,698 in 2018.

The department also confronted other issues under Rodbell’s watch, though some of those problems predated his tenure as chief.

In 2004, the department changed its hiring policies after reports that a high-ranking civilian administrator had been hired in 1998 despite admitting to using cocaine over 20 times in violation of the department’s existing hiring standards.

The Scottsdale Tribune reported that department leadership had given multiple exemptions to the drug use policy between 1996 and 2003 to at least 10 to 20 police employees.   

A decade later, irregularities at the Scottsdale Crime Lab ended up in front of the Arizona Supreme Court after several DUI defendants sought to have blood tests thrown out in court over problems with the city’s blood testing equipment.

Evidence provided in court in 2013 alleged that equipment put into use in 2009 occasionally printed the wrong names or vial numbers on test results or take information from one blood sample and attach it to a separate sample, leading a judge in Maricopa County Superior Court to invalidate the evidence.

The Arizona Supreme Court later reversed that decision but noted that defendants could inform juries about the history of malfunctions in the testing equipment.

More recently, the department received criticism for its response to the Scottsdale Fashion Square riot in May that saw hundreds of people descend on the mall and surrounding properties, causing millions of dollars in property damage and theft.

Some local business owners and residents criticized the department for a perceived failure to control the situation or respond with more force.

At the time, Rodbell defended the department’s response, citing the fact that it was faced with an unprecedented mass event and no major injuries or deaths were reported in connection with the event.

“No use of force was used last night beyond arresting folks, so I couldn’t be more impressed and more pleased and more proud of the men and women in law enforcement,” Rodbell said the next day.

A postmortem report issued by the department acknowledged that it vastly underestimated the size the riot in the hours leading up to the event.

Rodbell and the department as a whole also received praise from some local officials for handling the unprecedented situation without risking further violence or injuries to civilians.

“There is a partially good result in that worse things didn’t happen,” Mayor Jim Lane says. “It wasn’t, as some people have decried, mass destruction. Nor was it where anybody was injured, and thankfully no one was killed.”

Over the course of the next several months, the department made 55 arrests in connection with the riot and recovered thousands of dollars in stolen merchandise.

Just weeks later, Rodbell marched alongside over 1,000 peaceful protestors in Downtown Scottsdale who were calling for an end to police brutality and unequal treatment of African Americans.

The city has not released details of its plan to find Rodbell’s replacement.

A city spokesman did not respond to a request for details on the timeline for the search.