In May, we reported on a partnership between an Arizona police department and the ATF. According to documents we obtained, the police department signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the ATF establishing that it would provide manpower to the federal agency. In return, the ATF committed to paying overtime and certain other expenses.

In attempt to better understand just what kind of cooperative partnership exists between the ATF and the Glendale Police Department, we talked to a Glendale City Council member and filed an open records request with the department. The information we gathered raises more questions than it answered.

The police department first entered into the MOA back in May of 2011. At the time, the agreement extended until 2015. In November of last year, the  Glendale City Council unanimously approved an extension of the MOA until 2020.

Glendale council member Ray Malnar said he was under the impression the agreement was primarily related to security at the Gila River Arena and the University of Phoenix Stadium.

“My understanding is that we are reimbursed for our police services at the stadium, by the stadium, but not for overtime. I was given a briefing and tour of the stadium the morning of the Fiesta bowl. ATF and many other federal agencies are present during these events for security purposes. The intent of this agreement was to get reimbursed for overtime that would have otherwise been an expense to the city.”

Malnar agreed to talk with Glendale P.D. Chief Robert Castor, who said the MOA was put in place for an even more direct reason.

“This specific MOA was adopted in order for the ATF to reimburse our agency for overtime expenses incurred for a gun show hosted in Glendale back in 2011. Officers from the Glendale Police Department worked as security at the event on an overtime basis at the request of the ATF. The MOA needed to be in place so that the reimbursement could be accepted. Although the MOA is still in place, it was only utilized on that single occasion for that single event.”

In response to our open records request, the Glendale Police Department sent documents relating to the MOA, both from the police department and the ATF. They also sent copies of financial documents.

Nothing we obtained from the city contradicts the police chief’s claim. The only reimbursements from the ATF were dated November 2011. They seem to correspond with the gun show. There were also copies of two checks $1,191.32 dated January 2012. They were marked “deposit” and “facility usage” in the memo. According to an email, these checks paid for rental of a city facility by the ATF.

Nevertheless, it appears the MOA serves a broader purpose, and that the Glendale P.D. has a much closer relationship with ATF than the reimbursement history indicates. Also, the assertion that the MOA was put in place simply to pay overtime for security at a single gun show raises an important question: if that’s the case, why was the MOA extend until 2020?

A close look at the U.S. Department of Justice form the police department signed states the purpose and terms of the agreement.

“The Glendale Police Department shall assign officer(s) to assist the ATF in investigations of Federal, state, and local laws.”

Note the use of the term “shall.” With this agreement in place, the language would seem to indicate the Glendale P.D. operates under an obligation to supply manpower to the ATF when requested.

It’s also interesting that the document references ATF investigation of “state and local laws.” Why is a federal agency involved in enforcing state and local law?

City documents prepared for the council vote on approval of the MOA outlining the purpose also reveal an ongoing relationship between the ATF and Glendale P.D.

“The Police Department currently assists the ATF Task Force on an as-needed basis during local gun show and various work details within the city. The purpose of the MOA is for ATF to reimburse overtime salary costs and other costs, including but not limited to travel, fuel, training and equipment incurred by the Police Department in providing resources to assist the ATF. Assisting the ATF Task Force enhances the Police Department’s opportunities for information sharing.”

Note that it says “currently assists.”

Despite the chief’s assertion that the MOA was essentially established for a one-time reimbursement, it seems reasonable to conclude from the documents that the Glendale P.D. has an ongoing relationship with the ATF and assists on a regular basis. Security at gun shows seems to be an important aspect of the relationship, but there appears to be more going on. What “various work details” means remains unclear.

So, why don’t we see more reimbursements from the ATF? We don’t know. The most likely explanation is that Glendale P.D. officers’ work with the ATF generally happens within their normal working hours and doesn’t typically generate overtime. Keep in mind the feds only reimburse overtime, not regular officer pay, even if the officer engages in federal activity during his or her shift.

Malnar provided a little more information on the cooperation between the Glendale P.D. and the ATF.

“We do not pull our officers off the street if ATF requests them. Only officers willing to work overtime would be dispatched for these events if needed. The city works with the ATF when needed such as ballistics and gun identification such as the shooting at the high school earlier this year. We would also loan officers to ATF if requested for a gun show and similar events where ATF is involved.”

It seems clear some level of regular cooperation exists between the ATF and the Glendale Police Department and that the city loans manpower to the federal agency. To what extent remains unclear.

This provides further confirmation that the feds do depend on state and local cooperation to enforce federal gun laws. Withdraw of such cooperation would likely hinder federal enforcement efforts, but to what extent still remains unclear.

These partnerships drain resources and shift the focus away from local policing efforts toward federal priorities. The city of Glendale is under no obligation to provide resources or manpower to the ATF. In fact, the state could prohibit such cooperation altogether. Proposition 122, a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution passed in 2014, provides a mechanism for refusing state resources to federal programs. The Arizona legislature should take a careful look at the cooperation between local law enforcement and federal agencies such as the ATF.

Mike Maharrey

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