City council to improve relationships between police and community members

(Lisa Diethelm/DD)

By Jonmaesha Beltran and Christian López

Mayor Kate Gallego called for a work-study to discuss a citizen review board and created a criminal reform committee after public outrage over Phoenix police department’s 44 officer-involved shootings and a viral video showing officers pointing their guns at a black family.

Ad Hoc Committee

The new Phoenix Police reform committee held its second meeting Thursday to discuss the overview of five key reports.

Gallego established the 19-member committee to review past and current recommendations made to the council and Phoenix Police Department to strengthen the department’s relationship between the community, according to a press release.

The five key reports included Chief Williams’ five-point plan, the National Police Foundation report, the Community and Police Trust Initiative report, the Community Outreach report and the Berkshire Advisors report.

After going over the ethics of being on a committee, the members were only able to discuss Williams’ report for the remainder of the meeting.

Many members said they don’t want to be like other ad hoc committees before.

Cleo Lewis, a former Phoenix police officer and committee member, said he saw a common thread of the recommendations in the reports and it’s hard to determine if other committees were making a comprehensive plan or “putting out a fire.”

“When I look at it collectively it looks like, we put out a fire and then it was over and then three or four years later the fire re-engaged,” Lewis said. “I don’t want to be the same group of people … repeating the same recommendations.”

The language of the report was a heavy topic. Many members wanted to know what trust and accountability meant to the police department.

“Specifically, I see accountability and trust being thrown around in these reports … what I don’t know: What the police means when they say trust and what they’re looking for from me… I would like to know what the police mean when they say that,” said Jamar Williams, an activist and committee member.

Executive Assistant Chief of Phoenix Police Department Michael Kurtenbach said trust was when Phoenix Police officers could drive down a certain street and see kids playing ball who do not run from officers, but actually invite officers to shoot hoops, sit there and have a conversation without being scared.

“It’s mutual understanding and mutual respect,” he said.

Some members addressed many police officers not being present at community events and not having time to hear what the community is saying.

“When we have these community meetings (and) coffee with a cop… one of the problems that I think is that a lot of stuff people say, the officers don’t get to hear it,” said Jay Swart, former Apache Junction police commander and committee member. “There’s got to be something created where the officers who are patrolling these different areas can hear what the community is saying.”

Citizen Oversight

Phoenix City Council held its first of three work study sessions to discuss the possibility of a review board Tuesday with the help of Liana Perez, formerly the first public auditor for the City of Tucson and the current director of operations for National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.

She explained the duties, challenges and strengths of three models—review focused, auditor and investigations—to the council.

“When deciding which model to implement, the needs of the community and all the stakeholders should be carefully assessed as you’re going through this process,” Perez said.

A review model examines a predetermined set of issues around police conduct for cases that are closed while the auditor focuses on review of data with an eye for any trends. The most complex model is investigations which are separate and independent from the police department, according to the work study agenda.

Councilmember Carlos Garcia and Councilmember Laura Pastor members asked Perez questions about the level of expertise for staff, cost of models, early intervention systems and examples from Tucson’s model.

“We’re in a position where we really need this right, last year we were the deadliest police department in the country,” Garcia said.

But not everyone agreed with him and wondered if the department really needs a citizen oversight.

“This is a national movement right now that is meant to make the police officers look bad,” Councilmember Sal DiCiccio said during the work study. “It’s meant to corrupt the system where individuals will be able to take over the police department.”

Vice Mayor Jim Waring said we’ve been talking about the community like it’s one big block and it’s all unhappy with the police department.

“I think it’s a little surprising when you look at the police shootings that we had… how many were because citizens called and said someone is shooting with a gun in the neighborhood or something,” he said. “At some point the citizen has to bare some responsibility for that.”

In order to determine if a citizen oversight is needed, City Manager Ed Zuercher said, the city is in the development of a survey to determine the attitudes of police officers, but it will not be in effect until 2020.

Councilmember Thelda Williams expressed her concern of making a decision without knowing the thoughts of the majority of the community.

“We each represent a different segment and my district absolutely loves the police,” she said. “I don’t want concerns to get too deep, make a big decision and have this survey come back and really question if we need to go that far.”

The work study was for information only, and the council did not take any public comments.

Phoenix resident Shawn Severud said he wasn’t surprised that the council wasn’t taking any comments from the public.

“Kate Gallego doesn’t want the back and forth,” he said. “Her excuse for this meeting was we already heard from you guys. There should always be some form of public comment in my opinion.”

Chimene Hawes, local Phoenix resident, said she believes that the city of Phoenix believes there’s nothing wrong with the police department.

“When you have a whole city council meeting being co-opted by an irate public on more than one occasion and demanding that they stop being used as target practice by the police… the system is broken,” she said. “It is designed and functioning perfectly well for people it was designed and functioning for.”

The City Council has a goal to improve public trust, ensure complaint processes to all citizens, promote a thorough and fair investigation, increase transparency and to deter police misconduct, according to Assistant City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr.

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