40 Years of Phoenix Police Failure

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By Dianne Post, Esq.

The city council held a “study session” on July 1, 2019 devoted to the police use-of-force
issue. Chief Jeri Williams presented her new action plan that differs significantly from
her implementation plan released last month.

The new plan includes five action steps:

  • Talk to employees,
  • modernize,
  • best practices,
  • training, and
  • things that need council
    action.

Her first step was to talk to her employees and tell them what she expected of them. She
said she has had six meetings thus far and employees have begun the Implicit Bias
training round two.

“Modernize” meant cameras and a new Early Intervention System for whenever an
officer draws a gun not just when s/he uses it. She discussed when officers draw guns
e.g. when securing a building though they don’t already know of a threat. But the report
from the National Police Foundation study (PDF) said, “It should also be noted that
technology exists to document both drawn weapons as well as “gripping,” and to
simultaneously notify agencies and supervisors of a drawn weapons, which could serve
as both a valuable officer safety features, as well as a supervision too.”

But we must not depend on technology to protect us from bad policing. Body cameras
were designed for the protection of the police not the public. Studies show they have not
resulted in reduction of use-of-force violations. Tazers were to avoid use of guns but
studies have shown that they have had the opposite effect in that more use-of-force
incidents occur with both guns and tazers. Stingray and CCTV have not solved the
problem because as one speaker said at the meeting, it is a human problem, not a
technology problem. We must deal with the culture of corruption, racism, and violence
especially linked with PLEA.

Chief Williams vowed to get police reports released within 30 days – a very much-
needed improvement – and to look at recruiting and hiring practices, test for bias, and
invoke early intervention for problem officers.

“Best practices” meant to push for more behavioral health response rather than law
enforcement, to de-escalate, to improve report writing that was a large focus of disgust at
the earlier community hearing because of blatant fabrication, and community engagement
policies.

“Training” was to look at report writing and move the field training to academy. Moving
the field training to the academy is probably good because so many officers say they learn x, y, z in the academy and on their first day in the field, the older officer says forget
everything you learned in the academy, this is the “real way” to do it. That “real way”
often includes long inculcated bias and violence.

The Chief offered three action items:

  • Early Intervention Software procurement,
  • create a vendor list for public opinion research, and
  • a civilian review board.

The National Police Foundation report recommended the early intervention program including “gripping” and the citizen review board. NPF also offered a free public and officer opinion research platform. Thus we would not have to spend money on a public polling firm. NPF also said on page 67 that, “One of the most obvious and significant findings that immediately became apparent is PPD’s transparency is significantly lacking.” No options were suggested to fix that.

Much of the objection from council members to the “Early Intervention Software” was
that we had just bought such a system in 2017 for the sum of $17,000 per year. Now it
seems that that system is only rudimentary and does not talk to the other computer
systems and it’s not “holistic.” Some council members asked shouldn’t the supervisors
be on top of that? Don’t they pay attention to what their employees are doing?

Community comments focused on the need to prevent incidents not just fire the person
afterward, many speakers in this and other sections pointed out that the recommendations
from the 2015 “Trust Initiative” were never implemented. Many of the speakers offered
very professional advice regarding prevention versus audit, studies at the University of
Chicago, and use of the Brady list for lying officers. They also outlined obvious
situations that have been ignored including an incident where an officer was shot
allegedly by other officers because he would not go along with them. The proposal was
passed 7-1 with Waring as the holdout.

On the second issue of a public opinion survey, the council spoke of concerns about
being holistic and inclusive. Others spoke about two white areas of the city (District 2
and 6, DiCiccio and Waring) where the responses would be very different from other
parts of the city.

DiCiccio began to engage in his well-honed tactics of making outrageous comments to provoke the audience. Then he responds to the audience with some nasty comment or name-calling. When the audience ramps up, he then turns to Mayor Gallego like a baby saying, you have to take control of this meeting. He repeated this strategy several times during the meeting and was called out about it by Leonard Clark.

No one seemed to remember (or had read) that the National Police Foundation
had offered a no-cost community survey already available. Rather than spending money
on inventing one, why don’t we use one already tested at the Police Foundation?

One outrageous comment (I have in my memory that it was DiCiccio, but I have in my
notes that it was Waring) was that everyone is nervous when a cop is driving behind a
person down the street. Even he is nervous because he worries does he have a broken
taillight or is he driving a mile over the speed limit. What he fails to see is that his trivial
concerns are due to his white privilege. Blacks and Hispanics are not worried about such
trivial matters. They are worried whether that cop will kill them, will falsely arrest them, will wrongfully detain them, or will turn them over to ICE and deport them. Trivial
concerns about taillights and speeding are nothing in comparison to the stress that people
of color face daily. The failure to understand these other parts of the community is a
barrier to reaching understanding or agreement.

Other council concerns about the questionnaire were that we last had one in 2012 and the
two usual suspects wondered about the value of surveys. Nowakowski pointed out that
finding out about the imbalances in the city would be good information to have. Pastor
pointed out that the ASU survey was released to the public even before the city council
members got to see it. She questioned who analyzes the results and for what use?
Audience concerns focused on who was drafting the questions, who was asking them,
what kind of sample was being used, and that the level of distrust with police would not
result in accurate answers. Many pointed out that businesses use surveys all the time as
does marketing. Services often hand out a card with every interaction. Poder in Action
pointed out they already had done a survey with 10,000 participants so use that. Others
suggested we already know the problems, focus on that.

In defending the police actions in the Ames case, Waring said that police were “invented”
to protect property and just don’t take other people’s stuff. The first iteration of police
were slave patrols who were indeed protecting “property” – the property of rich, white,
plantation owners who thought they owned that Black man who had just escaped. Those
patrols evolved into the police, which especially in the South were full of Klansman who
were doing the same job, but this time with a badge and lawful authority. Most Black
people know this; most white people do not. So Black people have a bone-deep reason to
distrust police.

As for not taking people’s stuff, this hardly applies to a 4-year-old who walks out of a
store with a doll. She is not old enough yet to understand the concept. Most children take
things like that. I know my niece took a couple of candy bars off a low shelf near the
check out counter not realizing they had to be paid for. The vote for this measure was
also 7-1.

By this time the auditorium had cleared out quite a bit as three hours had passed. The
board turned to the final subject, the civilian review board and went on for three more
hours.

The assistant city manager was presenting his PowerPoint when I had to leave.
He outlined that such boards were common in the 1920s, saw a surge in the 1970s, waned
in the 1980s, and saw another surge in the 2000s. He pointed out there are four different
types: review, audit/monitor, investigation, and hybrid. The “review type” review the
law enforcement investigation after the fact and make discipline and policy recommendations. The “audit/monitor type” look for patterns, monitor the
investigations, and make operational recommendations. The “investigation type” runs a
parallel investigation, may be able to subpoena, may be able to compel testimony, and
may be able to discipline. He then showed a list of which cities had which types with the
proviso that some cities have hybrid types or more than one.

In spite of Chief Williams prior statement that she couldn’t have a board making policy
or even seeing it many other cities seem to get along with that idea quite well – NY,
Indianapolis, Austin, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Jose, San Francisco, Philadelphia, San
Antonio, Columbus, Houston, Tucson, and Chicago for starters.

If I had been able to speak last night, this is what I would have said:

“We must reframe this issue. It should not be “us”; and “them”; If we are “civilians”;, then the police are “military”.; If the police are military then who is the enemy? The people. Police are supposed to protect and serve; military is to invade and conquer. People in Phoenix, especially people of color, feel like the latter has been the fact for many years. We need to change the mindset. Get out of the militarization of law enforcement. Rename it the citizens review board. We all are citizens, police and public.

In 1967 after the Watts uprising, the national crime commission did an exhaustive study and made hundreds of recommendations – most never implemented. LBJ at the time said we need a “revolutionary change”; in thinking about policing. It is 52 years later but let’s start that revolution change now.”

For a citizens review board to become a reality, we must have deadlines and a strict
timeline for action or this will die as so many efforts before have. I personally know of
three times when the same pattern repeated – crisis occurred, investigation done,
recommendations made, given to city staff, they slow walk action, nothing happens,
another crisis occurs, rinse and repeat. Several commentators mentioned the 2015
recommendations that were never implemented. I moved here in 1980 and at that time,
we were arguing with Chief Ruben Ortega to get a Citizens Review board. Here we are,
39 years later, and we are still arguing to get a Citizens Review board. The public has
said what they want for decades. The city council has not listened. The police have
continued their rampage.

The elephant in the room that was occasionally mentioned by public speakers was the
police union that has now even flirted with calling a no-confidence vote for Chief
Williams (as they did in Mesa for the chief (of color) there trying to hold them
accountable). At the beginning of the meeting, city manager Zuercher stated that he had
“complete confidence” that Chief Williams was the right chief for this time.

But Chief Williams needs to remember you can never placate bullies by being nice to
them. The only thing that works is to stand up to them. The city must stand up to PLEA
and take them on. We pay over and over again the civil judgments for their use of
violence; they pay nothing – the taxpayers do. So we can afford to pay the lawyers to
take them on and win and stop this bullying of chiefs, of other police, of city officials,
and most importantly of the public.

Good cops must stand up and speak out. I’m sure there are more of them than of the bad
apples, but they are not standing up while their reputations are being dragged into the
mud. I spoke to one the day of the city meeting and he said that there are many officers
who do not agree with PLEA but they are being silenced. Silence is complicity – speak
up. If you are afraid, think how the victims feel!

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Michael founded BlogForArizona as the Howard Dean campaign blog for Arizona in 2003, and has been blogging ever since. Michael is an attorney living in Tucson with his wife Lauren Murata. In 2008, following some health issues and new time constraints, Michael stepped back from regular blogging and began remaking BlogForArizona into a collaborative project. Michael now contributes occasionally to the blog and provides editorial and publishing direction. Also if you want to keep up with the latest Arizona and National political news that Mike finds important, check out the BlogForArizona twitter feed, which he curates.

1 COMMENT

  1. Southern policing evolved from the slave patrols, not western policing. Western policing evolved from the U.S. Marshals patrolling the pre-statehood federal territories and local law enforcement being created by necessity in the form of sheriffs and deputies. Quasi-government groups like the Texas Rangers and Arizona Rangers also had some role. Don’t tarnish our history by allowing it to be linked to slave patrols.

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