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Church State Issues

Watchdog reporting is one of The Republic's priorities

Jan 11, 2015

Arizona Republic

A good reason for the 1st Amendment???


Watchdog reporting is one of The Republic's priorities

Cherrill Crosby, The Republic | azcentral.com 9 p.m. MST January 10, 2015

One of our newsroom priorities is watchdog reporting, with an emphasis on governmental accountability.

All 17 reporters in our News Watchdog Center focus on making government answerable for its activities.

And all the local government reporters — those covering Phoenix, Scottsdale, Chandler, Mesa, Glendale, Surprise, Peoria, Gilbert, Tempe, Avondale and other southwest Valley city halls, as well as public-safety and education beats — are devoted to holding government accountable, too.

One way we do this is by examining what our government is doing compared to other states, counties and cities. We look for best practices and widely accepted industry standards. We get tips from whistle-blowers. And subscribers send us questions and leads at tips.azcentral.com.

When states around the country started having pension-fund problems, we filed numerous public-records requests to determine the standing of Arizona's five public pension funds. Some of our findings:

— The pension systems were collectively costing taxpayers more than $1 billion a year.

— Hundreds of public employees were double-dipping, which caused a drain on the pension system.

— Some elected officials were making more in annual retirement benefits than the top salaries they earned when employed.

When a border agent shot through the international fence into Mexico and killed a teenager, we asked how often agents used force and how Customs and Border Protection handles investigations involving use of force.

We found the majority of Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers respond to conflict with restraint, that "agents who killed mostly did so under circumstances virtually identical to hundreds of encounters that other agents resolved without lethal force and without serious injuries to either side." And none of those agents was formally disciplined for killing someone through the use of force since at least 2004.

When whistle-blowers told us wait times were so long at the Phoenix VA hospital that dozens of veterans had died while awaiting care, we started by asking the Department of Veterans Affairs for data on how long veterans were waiting for appointments. Most of you know what we found, this being one of the biggest national stories of 2014.

Wait times that the VA had touted and for which top administrators were awarded bonuses were falsified. As many as 40 veterans who asked the VA for appointments may have died before getting care.

And when we looked into the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's handling of sex crimes investigations, we found MCSO failed to adequately probe reports of abuse and assault — in some cases never interviewing a suspect or running a background check.

Another way we hold government accountable is by checking the statements of candidates for elected office and those already in office. AZ FACT CHECK has researched and reported on the accuracy of more than 400 statements involving key topics and political races in Arizona.

If you hear or know something that doesn't quite add up or isn't sitting right with you, let us know that we should look into it.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Cherrill Crosby is the director for The Republic's News Watchdog Center. Before she became an editor, she reported on state government, courts, education and breaking news.

How to reach her

cherrill.crosby@arizonarepublic.com

Phone: 602-444-4810

Twitter: cherrill_crosby