Arizona Humanities holds policing discussion with state lawmakers

Attendees discussed policing practices and reform at a “People are Talking” Lunch and Learn hosted by AZ Humanities. (Andrea Estrada/DD)

Members of the public and legislators discussed policing practices and reform as part of Arizona Humanities’ first “People are Talking” Lunch and Learn conversation.

Attendees engaged in a discussion with Professor Michael Scott of the Arizona State University School of Criminology & Criminal Justice.

Arizona Humanities is a downtown-based civic organization that holds speaking events and provides grants for humanities programs among other services.

Scott opened by addressing the popular police phenomenon that has emerged in recent years.

“The police are very much in the news in the past few years,” he said. “There’s lots of conversation, locally, state-level [and] nationally, about what we are going to do with the police, how we are going to fix the police.”

Scott said one issue that hardly has any of the public’s attention, though, is excessive dependence on police.

“A lot of our big mistake in this country is to assume that the police, the people with badges, guns and uniforms, will take care of [everything] for us,” Scott said.

Scott said over-reliance on the police, which ultimately is an institution with limited authority, results in problems like racial disparity, racial profiling and excessive use of force.

Arizona Humanities Executive Director Brenda Thomson asked attendees about the prevailing policing issues that exist within their own districts.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said an issue in her community involves police interaction with teens. As reference, she shared with everyone an incident that occurred in Tempe at Arizona Mills mall.

Salman explained how Latino teens were arrested after disobeying a security’s order to leave.

“I’m disturbed by it,” Salman said. “Arizona Mills mall is a safe haven for our teens because the state [is] not providing enough locations for teens to hangout.”

In response, Scott said there is a right and wrong way to go about policing teens.

“We don’t want to regulate, [and] essentially, criminalize hanging out,” Scott said.

Cloves Campbell, executive director of Arizona Commission of African American Affairs, said police mentalities could be an issue.

“It’s been inbred in police officers, not just here, but around the country, that they are better than the citizens that they work for,” Campbell said.

Campbell said it is important for residents to be aware of the police’s power, as well as the power citizens hold over the police.

“We can’t live without police officers, but at the same time we don’t have to be scared of them,” Campbell said.

State Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said throughout the years he has had the opportunity to familiarize himself well with the Mesa and Tempe police chiefs, and has noticed divergent philosophies among both.

“My impression is the different philosophies is really just at their whim, and whether or not they know about it,” Mendez said, referring to the different practices police chiefs decide to implement.

In closing, Scott outlined critical questions the public should ask: Who is your police chief? Who gets to be a police officer? How are they trained?

Scott said there’s a lot of unawareness in society about what the police do, the choices they make and the subsequent consequences.

“I think we all just need to be more aware of what is our role,” Scott said. “We all have a role in the selection of our police.”

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