Phoenix City Council approve a model civilian review board in policy session

Viri Hernandez, with Poder in Action, spoke at the Policy Session on Feb. 25, 2020. Poder in Action is an organization that focuses on dismantling systems of oppression. Courtesy of City of Phoenix.

Phoenix City Council approved a model of the civilian review board Tuesday, a historic move that will allow an independent body to investigate complaints against police.

The Council voted 5-4 to approve the Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT), which will have the power to take community complaints and make recommendations of policy change to the police chief, according to The call for a civilian review board has been in discussion for years but became a real topic of discussion following a protest against police misconduct in 2019.

“Since we began the discussion of civilian review, I have always said that we need to ensure that there is transparency and accountability,” Vice Mayor Betty Guardado said. “Trust is a shared goal of our council, of our community, and our police department. Only with trust can we create safe neighborhoods. I believe that (an OAT) offers the best framework for continuing to grow trust both our community and for our police officers.”

To voice their support of a civilian review board, Phoenix residents came to the policy session sporting yellow shirts with the phrase “Cops must be accountable to the people.” Many residents shared their opinions and emotional stories in an attempt to sway the council.

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Of those who came to speak was Kevin Robinson, a criminology professor at Arizona State University and a retired assistant Phoenix Police chief. Of his 36 years with the Phoenix Police Department, he spent 12 as the chairperson of the disciplinary review board, and spoke to the Phoenix Police Department’s connection to the community.

“I never made a single (decision) without an impassioned discussion with members of the public. On the disciplinary review board, there were members that we always sought out their advice,” Robinson said.

The other model up for vote was proposed by Mayor Kate Gallego. In this model, an ombudsman (single individual in charge of an office) would be appointed to take the complaints and make recommendations, similar to the OAT.

Robinson gave support for both models but said that the ombudsman model would be a better choice.

“When you look at the employees, you look at the citizens, you look at the opportunity for involvement, you look at transparency – you look at everything, I think it’s critical,” Robinson said.

Another resident that came to speak was Maria Castro, in favor of the OAT model, who wore one of the yellow shirts in support of a CRB. Her nephew’s father had been recently killed by a PPD officer.

“At the beginning of your opening remarks, Mayor, you said ‘would the families of those who lost loved ones be okay with the model you presented?’ and I am here to tell you I am not okay with that,” Castro said about Gallego’s ombudsman model.

In addition to those who came to speak, there were 45 cards submitted in favor of the OAT model. After hearing the comments from the public, Councilwoman Debra Stark and Gallego both withdrew their motion for the ombudsman to the cheers of the audience.

This policy session follows a letter-writing event held last Tuesday at which Phoenix residents wrote letters to Gallego and councilmembers encouraging them to implement a civilian review board.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Robinson was in favor of the OAT model (Model B). The article has been updated with the corrections.

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