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New CPS investigative unit unanimously approved in committee

The House Judiciary Committee took the first steps Thursday in creating a new unit of investigators dedicated to high-priority child abuse and neglect cases, a cornerstone measure recommended by the Child Safety Task Force.

Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery told the committee the investigators will get police training from the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board, but they won’t be certified police officers, and they will be given authority to remove children from the home.

They would work under the Office of Child Welfare Investigations, which would be created under HB2721. The Judiciary Committee approved the bill in an 8-0 vote.

Gov. Jan Brewer has recommended an initial crop of 28 investigators, which Carter said would initially cost $2 million and would eventually grow to 50 investigators.

Montgomery, who co-chaired the task force with Carter, said the idea is to have investigators who would be well-versed in both police work and Child Protective Services policies to respond to calls coming into the abuse hotline. They will be better equipped to determine whether the police need to get involved and whether further services are necessary for the family.

“We’ll get better calls upfront,” Montgomery said.

The task force, sparked by a spate of high-profile child deaths in 2011, met several times throughout November and December. Montgomery said a contributing factor in many child deaths is an inadequate initial assessment.

Carter said most of the task force recommendations won’t require legislation and the creation of the investigative unit didn’t either, but the legislation was necessary so it wouldn’t be “left to the vagaries” of future administrations.

Carter has said the two most critical recommendations of the task force were creating the investigative unit and revamping the abuse hotline.

Other recommendations included giving CPS workers with college degrees pay raises, creating a forum where employees speak openly about the agency without fear of reprisal and operate under the presumption that records and reports are public record.

The task force also recommended installing improved data services that CPS, county attorneys and the attorney general could share, as well as improving the sharing of information related to abusers who are not “in a primary relationship to the primary victim.”

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