Michael J. Kurtenbach
Inducted June 2017
Nominated by James Coldren (CNA), Scott Decker, Charles Katz, Michael Scott, Vincent Webb and Michael White (Arizona State University), Hildy Saizow (OJP Diagnostic Center) and Chief Joseph Yahner (Phoenix Police Department)
Executive Assistant Chief Michael Kurtenbach has served with the Phoenix Police Department for over 27 years. In 2011 he was promoted to Commander, serving in various capacities to include overseeing the Training Bureau, Community Relations Bureau, Estrella Mountain Precinct, and the Maryvale Precinct. He was promoted to Assistant Chief in 2015 and was tasked with heading the Department’s Community Services Division. He was promoted to Executive Assistant Chief in November 2016 and is now responsible for overseeing the day to day operations of a Department comprised of nearly 4,000 sworn and civilian members. Chief Kurtenbach earned a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies and a Master of Education in Human Relations, both from Northern Arizona University. He has also been the recipient of numerous department commendations and awards, to include the Medal of Valor, Distinguished Service Award, Community Based Policing Award, Police Chief’s Unit Award, and Supervisor of the Year.
Evidence-Based Research and Practice:
Assistant Chief Kurtenbach has a long standing record in evidence-based policing practice. In 2007 he facilitated a comprehensive response to a large increase in homicides in the South Mountain Precinct using both enhanced enforcement programs as well as community-oriented approaches to help reduce violence and build trust and foster relationships within the community. In 2010, Kurtenbach facilitated the Bureau of Justice Assistance sponsored Phoenix TRUCE project, which was modeled after the Chicago CeaseFire program. This program adopted a public health approach in responding to violence in the community, and Kurtenbach engaged Arizona State University’s Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety which served as the research partner for this effort.
More recently, his leadership and participation in the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Smart Policing Initiative (SPI) involved a quasi-experimental study of a pilot program for body worn cameras, with a particular focus on their impacts on the processing of domestic violence cases. Kurtenbach was responsible for the Department’s full participation in the Smart Policing Initiative with the research team from Arizona State University. From the outset, Assistant Chief Kurtenbach provided the strong leadership required to see a study of this nature through to completion, and to support a range of evaluation research activities. He is currently directing a BJA-sponsored department-wide randomized controlled trial of body-worn cameras. Of interest are not only the direct program effects (e.g., increases in arrests, prosecutions, and convictions associated with particular crime types, decreases in complaints against the police), but also indirect program effects including the identification of any unanticipated consequences as a result of the department wide implementation of body-worn cameras.
Chief Kurtenbach is a strong advocate of evidence-based policing practice, which is further demonstrated in his current role as chief advisor to the Phoenix Police Foundation. As the chief adviser he regularly advocates for the private funding of data driven programming to reduce risk factors among disadvantaged youth, and he works alongside the business community and charitable organizations to direct giving to programming that is grounded in research. His nominators praise his efforts, noting that Chief Kurtenbach’s “relationship with the Arizona State University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice is a model for other departments and universities, fostering a police-researcher partnership that not only produces mutual benefits for the participating organizations, but that generates practical and theoretical knowledge for the benefit of the larger society, and will likely do so for decades to come.”
Statement from Inductee:
As a young officer, I was brought up during an era of zero tolerance policing that was driven largely by the war on drugs. As the crack epidemic gripped some of the more impoverished neighborhoods in Phoenix, associated violence and community degradation followed. Traditional criminal street gangs not only fought over turf, they fought over market share and they left unprecedented carnage in their wake.
Our response, at the time, was to saturate targeted neighborhoods and in essence become an occupying force. The goal was genuine, to stop the violence and stabilize a community in need, but the results were sorely lacking. While the open air drug markets and violent crime would be suppressed for a period of time, there wasn’t any true problem solving. We would either displace the criminal activity or the bad actors would simply just wait us out because they knew that such concentrated enforcement efforts were not sustainable.
Fast forward to 2007, when I had the opportunity to serve as a crime suppression lieutenant in a violence plagued police precinct where much of the aforementioned policing efforts occurred. Despite years of aggressive, targeted policing, violent crime perpetuated by criminal street gangs had reached unprecedented highs. The police station that serviced this area sat in between two neighborhoods claimed by warring gangs and, that summer, the station itself was targeted by a drive-by shooting. Suffice it to say that our previous enforcement efforts had not netted the desired results.
Based on past experience administering Department of Justice Weed and Seed grants and Department of Housing and Urban Development New Approach Anti-Drug Program grants, in addition to various statewide initiatives, I knew there were additional resources and creative methods available to address what we were experiencing. These methods included an unwavering commitment to data driven decision making, ultimately complemented by evidence based policing, to guide our policing efforts in combination the formation of unique partnerships. These partnerships included business, community, and faith leaders; youth programs, defense attorneys, an economic development strategy, and prisoner reentry programs, just to name a few. While all of the partnerships were invaluable, the collaboration between the Phoenix Police Department and Dr. Charles Katz and the Arizona State University (ASU) Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety was of paramount importance.
With the support of a chain of command that was open to the application of new ideas and unconventional approaches to enhancing community safety, my team worked with anyone and everyone that was willing to come to the table and contribute to the process. We conducted systematic, targeted enforcement with the goal of never causing harm, while demystifying the law enforcement profession and humanizing the men and women that swore a solemn oath. We used our partnership with ASU to realize results that were absolutely staggering.
In those neighborhoods that were the drivers of the violence, crime was reduced by over 50% in year one alone. Crime continued to fall, reaching historic lows that remain today, as churches and other community based organizations provided wraparound services that were previously lacking. Parks have been returned to the communities for which they were intended, community centers now bustle with games and activities, and fear has greatly subsided. That model has been replicated in other parts of the city and what was once deemed to be unconventional policing is now the norm. None of this would have been possible if not for an organization commitment to evidence based policing.