PHOENIX – The outgoing director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety said he believes expectations of law enforcement responsibilities have become “unrealistic” and given officers an “impossible task.”
“I think society’s expectations of law enforcement have become absolutely unrealistic,” Director Col. Heston Silbert told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Wednesday.
“You dial 911 and within seconds you have a professional come to your door who can handle any myriad or multitude of problems. But at times, I think we expect a law enforcement officer to have a Ph.D. in psychology and counseling and everything else. And while it seems they do sometimes, the realities of what’s asked of them has gotten to be too far-reaching.”
Silbert added that he thinks accountability has been flipped on its head.
“We’ve inverted accountability with regard to obeying laws in our society and we put it on law enforcement officers and given them an impossible task,” he said.
Silbert announced his retirement Tuesday, less than three years in the post. His departure is effective Friday.
“A new governor was elected and I think they wanted to go in a different direction and I understand and respect that process. I appreciate the manner in which Gov. [Katie] Hobbs’ people treated me in the last couple of weeks,” Silbert said.
Silbert was appointed by then-Gov. Doug Ducey and took over in April 2020. He had served as deputy director previously.
Overall, Silbert spent 34 years in law enforcement, starting with the Phoenix Police Department before he moved to the Mesa force.
He’d like to see a return to more traditional roles for officers.
“They are law enforcement officers and I think sometimes we need to get back to narrowing that focus as to who they are,” he said.
Whoever replaces him, Silbert said, “I would tell them, ‘You’ve got to make tough, risky decisions’ and I have a concern, quite frankly, in modern law enforcement right now that law enforcement leaders are shying away from that.
“I’d ask them to have some courage and stand up and represent the men and woman of the agency.”
Silbert said he wasn’t sure what his next steps will be.
“I think I’m going to take a step back and see what’s coming. I love law enforcement but I think there’s a whole lot of different things out there to explore about life.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.