Phoenix Police are thugs, and the city council are enablers or scaredy cats.

The long-awaited report from Department of Justice (DOJ) is finally out – all 126 pages of it. Most of it comes as no surprise to the thousands of victims of the Phoenix police and the dozens of organizations that have been working and lawyers who have been suing to get an accountable and law-abiding police force for over four decades.  I wish I could say that it’s worse than I thought.  It’s not.  It’s exactly as I thought – an absolute horror show.

In short, the DOJ found that there is reasonable cause to believe that the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives people of their rights under the Constitution and federal law.  The PhxPD uses excessive force, including unjustified deadly force; The PhxPD and the City unlawfully detain, cite and arrest the homeless and unlawfully dispose of their belongings; The PhxPD discriminates against Black, Hispanic, and Native American people; The PhxPD violates the rights of people engaged in protected speech and expression; And the PhxPD and the City discriminate against people with behavioral health disabilities.

None of this is news to the community.  

PhxPD is the largest police force in Arizona with over 2,500 sworn officers, of whom 68% are white, 5% are Black, 21% are Hispanic or Latino, and 6% identify as other races. Women comprise 13.5% of the workforce.  PhxPD also employs 900 civilian employees. In 2023, the City Council raised PhxPD’s annual budget to nearly $1 billion. 

That doesn’t count the millions the city pays out annually in lawsuits for police misconduct and murder. Between 2016 and 2023, the City paid over $40 million to settle claims of police misconduct in no fewer than 75 claims or lawsuits. In 2023 alone, the City settled cases for more than $12 million; and there are outstanding claims asking for millions more. Several payouts came from encounters in which PhxPD internal investigators found no violations of department policy. That is because it is the department’s policy to be violent and cruel. The City is presently litigating cases involving PhxPD’s response to protests, treatment of unhoused people, and use of excessive force. 

THE FINDINGS OF THE DOJ INVESTIGATION

The DOJ investigation took three years and involved watching camera footage, reading reports, attending trainings and meetings, and riding along with the patrol officers. The findings are well documented and widespread. The investigators heard trainers telling police officers that “force first” is the policy and all force, including deadly force, equals de-escalation. The police union spokesperson has denied many of the facts. Like the little bullies they are, when they are caught red-handed the only defense is – I didn’t do nothing.

As the report proved over and over, and the community knows well, the police get very upset when they are criticized in any way or if citizens are not immediately subordinate.  I watched a cop run a red light in my neighborhood and then found him parked across from my house.  I started to cross the street to tell him what I thought of him running the red light.  He got out of the car, stood behind the door, and pulled out his gun. I never stepped off my curb. With an officer that unbalanced, I immediately desisted, went into my house, and filed a complaint online. That complaint was “lost,” never to be heard of again.

Every government body is accountable to the public or we don’t have a democracy. Phoenix police seem to feel they are exempt from the Rule of Law, and the city government has gone along with it for years even after they themselves have been threatened.  Fear and campaign donations are the only reasons I can think of for that behavior.

From 2016 to 2022, 37% of all Phoenix PD arrests were of people experiencing homelessness.  This is a ridiculous waste of time and useless activity. But when you send law enforcement to resolve a social problem, then all you have is a hammer and everything is a nail.  However, the police have options but don’t use them.  Even with a $15 million dollar investment in not sending police to behavioral health calls, the department failed to train the dispatchers who continue to send only police often resulting in harm or death to the citizen and violating the law.

While Phoenix police and city officials yapped on about cooperating with the investigation, they did not provide all the data asked for. They refused to turn over a 21CP report done in 2021 about department inadequacies.  When asked to clarify the scope of PhxPD’s claimed “review” of the challenge coin scandal, two Phoenix commanders declined to speak with Justice Department investigators about the topic. 

The investigation found that from policy, to training, to actual practice, the officers are taught the wrong thing and do the wrong thing and then brag and laugh about it. They use force in imagined danger, against vulnerable people who aren’t dangerous, against minorities, and against protesters. The police often cause the violence by their hostile response. They often cause death by attacking people who are already restrained or unconscious, and then delaying aid. They especially like to kill people who are trying to commit suicide. The “joke” of “suicide by cop” is very real in Phoenix.

The report gives many examples of wrongful police behavior. They attack mentally ill people, shout at people they know are deaf, shoot people with pepper balls and stun bags who have committed no crime, sic dogs on people without need, attack people and then charge them with “resistance” when the citizen doesn’t even know who just assaulted them.  The department tells officers to be “proactive” with the projectiles and even took them away from officers who didn’t use them enough. They used banned restraining devices and procedures; make fun of and deliberately humiliate people; and lied to citizens about the law and their rights.

Over and over the report showed bad training, inadequate oversight, and absence of policy.  The investigators found essentially no supervision or accountability for officers or supervisors.  One trainer said that talking nice to people will get someone killed.  That was obvious in the response of the officer I tried to talk to about his running a red light. Trainers encouraged officers to react immediately without thinking. That is what got 12-year-old Tamir Rice murdered by the police in Cleveland seconds after the officer pulled up. Tamir was doing nothing but playing with a play gun in a public park – perfectly normal and legal behavior.  Immediate reaction may be the instruction for a soldier on a battlefield, but cops should not be soldiers because citizens are not the enemy.

Officers are taught that if a citizen does not immediately obey them, they can use force including firing projectiles at them.  Unquestioning obedience to authority is what is required in a fascist state, not in a democracy.

THE POLICE ABUSE THE HOMELESS

Officers told investigators they have a quota of tickets to give to the homeless. Most homeless people cannot pay the ticket so they go to jail which costs the taxpayer a lot more. But 96% of such trespassing charges are declined by the prosecutor so nothing was resolved but the homeless person losing their property and the taxpayer spending money on their time in jail. 

Yet when asked about stopping this practice, the police said no, we are going to roust people up at 5 a.m. and arrest them. This is cruelty for cruelty’s sake and it harms not only the victim but the officer as well who is or becomes a cruel and heartless person.  When the Occupy protests were going on, I took a large platter of left over sandwiches from a meeting to Cesar Chavez Plaza for Occupiers and the homeless. My visit coincided with a police raid.  An officer took the platter out of my hands, threw it upside down on the sidewalk, and then said – see what a mess you made?  I have to give you a ticket. I objected to it and heard no more. But most people are not lawyers.

During that occupation, the Central AZ NLG created forms for people whose property had been confiscated and not returned.  They had to file in court to get a court order forcing the police to return the property.  Many of the occupiers were college students so had computers, phones, and books in their backpacks that the police tossed into the garbage.    

The homeless have even worse stories.  The police and city have thrown away: tents, blankets, clothes, phones, sleeping bags, identification, court documents, medical paperwork, food stamp cards, social security cards, birth certificates, and insulin. Without these items, it is impossible to get assistance, or a job, to eat, or even stay alive.

The border patrol were/are doing the same thing and after complaints from Uncage and Reunite Families as well as many other groups, and a hearing organized by Congressman Grijalva in Washington D.C., they were ordered to stop.  Local police should treat citizens at least as well. 

The City of Phoenix just made it worse. In May they passed an ordinance by 8-0 that a person can’t camp within 500 feet of a school, childcare facility, shelter or city park. It goes into effect Sept 1.  The homeless would be fined $100 which they don’t have and can’t pay. The ban is in addition to the city’s existing ordinance that makes it illegal to camp in parks, on sidewalks, in canals and alleys. Where it is they suggest the homeless go? We await the decision from the Supreme Court in Johnson v. City of Grants Pass, Oregon that was argued on April 22 regarding such ordinances.  It should be out by the end of June.

The federal court just forced the city to clear out The Zone.  Since then, I have seen more small encampments in a local park, near a local church, near the local library, and on main roads.  No one likes it, but until we come up with a sustainable solution, the people must sleep somewhere.  The flat tax in Arizona has added to the failure of the government to provide essential services. The increasing wealth gap in the U.S. (the biggest in the world by far) has meant that the majority of people are getting poorer and poorer while a few fat cats rake in the money which they could not spend in three lifetimes.

THE POLICE DISCRIMINATE BASED ON RACE AND ETHNICITY

Again, a surprise to only the willfully blind, the investigation found that PhxPD engaged in racial discrimination. DOJ did statistical analyses to rule out any other causes for the differential treatment. The assault on people of color focused on traffic stops, low level drug offenses and quality of life offenses. The examples given are sickening. Riding a bicycle while Black can get you arrested twice as much as a white person for inadequate brakes and three times as much for not riding on the correct side of the road. Riding while Hispanic will get you arrested twice as often.

We learn in our driving course that we are to signal 100 feet before turning.  I see this violated about 100 times a day.  But not signaling while Black will get you arrested 3.5 times more than whites and not signaling while Hispanic will get you arrested 4 times more. Don’t speed in a school zone.  Blacks are arrested 90% more often than whites and Hispanics 51% more. For low level moving violations, Blacks are 144% more likely to be arrested and Hispanics 40% more. 

Black and Hispanic people use marijuana at the same rate as white people but are arrested at 7 times and 3 times the rate respectively of white people. The governor needs to issue a blanket pardon for all low-level marijuana arrests as the governor in Maryland just did. For alcohol violations, Blacks are arrested 5 times more often and Native Americans 44 times more. In non-white neighborhoods, police arrest for low-level drug and alcohol-related offenses at 4 times the rate that they do in majority white neighborhoods.  Window tinting violations are enforced at 14 times the rate in non-white neighborhoods versus white ones.  Blacks have long said that they live in an occupied zone where PhxPD surveil, arrest, and punish them for being Black. 

Yet with all this proof, the department denies they know about any discriminatory behavior despite a 2018 survey of 10,000 people in Phoenix, half of whom said they were scared when they saw any police. I am actually nervous about publishing this essay. If something happens to me, it’s usually the husband but since I don’t have one, look to the police.

THE POLICE HARASS FIRST AMENDMENT PROTESTORS.

The American origin story is built on protest – the phony Indians throwing the British tea in the harbor.  Yet the PhxPD engages in a pattern or practice that violates the First Amendment by retaliating against people for protected speech and expression. The Central Phoenix NLG has been involved in many of these protests by providing legal observers.  The police targeted the leaders and legal observers and wrongfully arrested them. One was a law student, and the other was a lawyer. 

The department admitted to “kettling” protesters and then firing projectiles at them. They attacked people who were filming which is their legal right.  The right-wing legislators have attempted to help the cops by passing bills that prohibited filming within a certain distance but haven’t been successful. The police claimed they didn’t have a permit policy – they used to because I used to get them. The PhxPD has even threatened to arrest citizens for trying to make a complaint. 

THE POLICE EXACERBATE BEHAVIORAL HEALTH PROBLEMS AND CAUSE VIOLENCE.

Just one example of the ridiculous police response to behavioral health problems is that of a teenage girl who ran out of the house while fighting with her mother. Nothing is unusual about that. But the police overreacted like SS Troopers and grabbed her, threw her down, and arrested her for breaking a picture frame at home earlier in the day.  In what scenario, in whose warped mind, is this a reasonable reaction by the police?  

The CIT officers have proven to be no better even though they are supposedly trained. The community has repeatedly opposed more money for the police because of this repeated behavior. Ignoring our voices, the city has continued to shovel more money into the police maw.

The failure to discipline has led to officers engaging repeatedly in misconduct and violence.  We don’t need more police acting badly; we need more police acting appropriately.  Until that happens, the department should not get a dime of taxpayer money. Taxpayers are paying for their own abuse!

ARE THERE ANY GOOD COPS?

I once asked some cops that I knew to be decent why they joined the union and why they didn’t stand up for what they knew was right. Those cops told me they didn’t dare. If they didn’t join the union or if they spoke up about violations of human rights and violence, they feared not just losing their positions or their jobs, but their lives. That is not paranoia because at least two suspected attacks on whistleblowers has occurred, at least one resulting in death.

One might feel some compassion for the officers who are trained to do the wrong thing. But they should have some knowledge of the Constitution and some sense of how to behave and some iota of compassion for human beings. One might feel some compassion for the officials who are afraid to speak out.  After all, they too have been targets of police violence and threats. Now they could come under the cover of the DOJ investigation but still they continue to defend the police. The one city council member who criticized the police, Carlos Garcia, was targeted by the police union and their dollars in the last election and defeated. 

POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY IS COMPLETELY ABSENT

The few times that the department has tried to fire someone, the Civil Service Board, which is completely captured by the police union, reinstates them. The department tried to terminate one officer in 2019 for knowingly making false statements on a search warrant and then lying to the internal investigators about it.  This same officer had failed a drug test in 2009; was suspended in 2018 for interfering in a felony investigation on behalf a friend; and suspended for failing to complete 34 robbery reports in 2019. Yet he was not fired. The department finally succeeded in firing him only in 2021 when the court indicted him for fraud. He isn’t even the worst. 

DOJ found no intervention for an officer who, from April 2021 to April 2022, reported using force eleven times, including an officer-involved shooting (his second in eight months) and an incident that resulted in a death in custody. In the same time span, this officer also pointed his gun at someone on at least eight occasions; had an out-of-policy, high-speed vehicle pursuit that resulted in significant property damage and civilian injuries; an out-of-policy minor traffic accident; and at least two other allegations of potential misconduct. This officer generated 13 alerts, none of which compelled a supervisor to intervene. 

THE CITY HAS DEFIED THE WILL OF THE CITIZENS IN ITS PATHETIC RESPONSE 

After decades of advocacy, the city finally set up an Office of Accountability and Transparency.  As with everything else it was a sham as we feared.  The first director resigned in January 2024 claiming that his work was interfered with by the city.

In the face of this report, Mayor Gallego is asking for listening sessions.  Puh-lease!  We have had such sessions over and over, in churches, in city council chambers, in community centers.  I don’t care anymore if they listen.  They must change. To suggest more “listening sessions” is an insult to the community. To continue to deny this problem is to deny reality and put innocent citizens directly in harm’s way.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

Supervisors were excoriated in the DOJ report for their omissions, commissions, and active collaboration in wrongdoing. But in fairness, they are prohibited by bad policy from looking at an officer’s history of misconduct when considering discipline, promotion, or transfer.  This is the opposite of good personnel management. Records were purged so a history of misconduct could be hidden.

The body-worn cameras that cost us taxpayers so much are ineffective as officers are allowed to mute them whenever they like.

Many of you will remember the challenge coin scandal which the police administration pretended not to know about but actively covered up when discovered. Below is the coin that celebrated the wrongful shooting of a peaceful protester in the groin and encouraged others to engage in such behavior.

Training is not the solution.  As the investigation found, the Phoenix police training exacerbates the problem by teaching myths and lies. They still teach that mentally ill people are more dangerous which is not true. Following the training means you will violate the law.

The report concludes with seven pages of remedies. Excuse me if I say there is not one thing new here. All of this has been told to the police and the city over and over for 40 years. Training doesn’t work.  They deliberately train them to do wrong.  Policies don’t work.  They either don’t implement them or shelve them, and no one ever hears of the policy again. Internal investigation doesn’t work. They inevitably find no wrongdoing or just lose the complaint.

MY SOLUTION

My conclusion after fighting with this problem for over 40 years is that the police are running this city not the elected officials. City officials refuse to act in the best interest of the citizens to force the police to act within the Constitution.  The police will never give up their power willingly.  You must take it. The only solution at this point is a consent decree with federal oversight.  Even that may not work.  A better solution would be to turn it over to the advocates who have suffered lo these decades and let us build a police department from scratch how it should be done. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that parallel universe.  

The warrior-cop mentality is wrong for a civilian police force.  Hiring people with former military experience does not help.  To them everyone is the enemy. We have campaigned unsuccessfully for years to de-militarize the police yet watched them move in the exact opposite direction. The price can clearly be seen.

This 40+ year problem is too engrained in the city and police culture to be fixed from the inside.  The community efforts for decades show it can’t be fixed by the community.  City officials can’t or won’t take effective action. The consent decree with federal oversight is the only solution. If you live in Phoenix, please contact your city council person and the mayor and tell them that.  


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1 thought on “Phoenix Police are thugs, and the city council are enablers or scaredy cats.”

  1. Sounds like the City Council needs to take a page out of the Camden, NJ playbook by firing the entire force and letting them re-apply for their old jobs. Believe that weeded out the bad apples that were spoiling the bunch.

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