Phoenix fires whistleblowing police officer

Sgt. Phil Roberts, a police officer with the Phoenix Police Department, has been fired.  Roberts was placed under internal investigation after he wrote memos reporting that high-level city officials misrepresented crimes in order to receive federal grant money.

The department seemed determined to find some basis to banish the officer with a spotless personnel record.

Phoenix Police opened five separate internal investigations against him in the months following his memos. The department then held those investigations open for the past two years. (source:

Ultimately, they charged Roberts with making false statements in his memos and sending them outside his chain of command.  (There is a public interest, however, in protecting workers who go outside their chain of command to report wrongdoing, as internal “investigations” frequently become whitewashes.)  Ludicrously, the department also charged Roberts with using “city property for personal gain”–for writing memos on paper with the city logo.

The charges filed against Roberts resemble those brought against other whistleblowers; for example, Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer.  Shaffer told the 9/11 Commission that a classified military unit, code-named Able Danger, identified four Sept. 11 hijackers before the attacks but failed to notify the FBI.  Like Roberts, Shaffer was charged with going outside his chain of command.  The Department of Defense–which has become synonymous with mind-boggling waste and fraud–also charged Shaffer with minor infractions committed years before, including “stealing pens.”

When agencies are desperate to silence whistleblowers, no charge is too petty to pursue.