Phoenix chief says she’s making changes to police culture, responds to criticism

Phoenix chief says she’s making changes to police culture, responds to criticism

After a summer filled with protests and allegations of police misconduct, Phoenix police Chief Jeri Williams said she has made policy changes that are changing the culture within the department.

Still, the Police Department has come under fire from advocates who say she is doing the minimum, that some of the announced changes are performative acts, and that others should have been made long ago. 

In an interview with Arizona Republic reporters on Thursday, Williams addressed some of the criticism the department has faced in recent months over how officers have handled the protests, lack of use-of-force data analysis and allegations that the agency has a culture of sexual police violence.

The intense criticism comes during a period in which the city has seen a spike in violent crime, particularly in homicides.

Williams said that while the Police Department may not always have enough police officers or enough resources, police are dealing with the challenges head-on. At the same time, she said, the demonstrations have forced the Police Department to reflect on what policies need to change in order to better serve the public.

“To change the culture is tangible,” she said. “And what I mean by tangible is we’ve made adjustments to our policies.”

‘I’m not afraid of the truth’

Williams provided some examples of changes that have been announced previously, such as banning the Carotid Control Technique, a stranglehold meant to cut the flow of blood to the brain.

But she also mentioned some new changes.

The Police Department will begin to report “serious and malicious” violations to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, also known as AZ POST, the state office that certifies police officers in the state.

Specifically, the Police Department will now report to AZ POST class-three violations, which, according to the department’s operation orders, are “acts so serious and malicious in nature, they may require immediate intervention by the Police Chief (or designee) with the immediate removal of all employee responsibilities.”

This violation is currently only subject to a review by the Police Department’s disciplinary review board, which could issue a 40- to a 240-hour suspension, demotion or termination of the officer.

An example of such a violation was former Phoenix police Officer Christopher Meyer, who was accused of excessive force when he pointed his gun and threatened to shoot Dravon Ames in front of his pregnant fiancee and children. The May 2019 traffic stop was spurred because a dollar store employee reported to 911 that one of the couple’s children took a doll without paying for it.

The City Council approved a $475,000 payout to the family to settle the case and Williams fired Meyer.

“I’m not afraid of the truth. I am working through the process of making sure to be transparent, accountable, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the investigation,” Williams said in the interview, adding that the department is “making sure we can increase the impact of violent crime, property crime, and also making sure that during this 100th day or so of protest that we are so able to have people protest or demonstrate peacefully.”

This latest effort comes as the Police Department for the past few years has been under criticism because it either didn’t collect use-of-force data or analyze the data it does have to determine how deadly use of force has disproportionately affected people of color.

The Arizona Republic previously found that use-of-force cases and police shootings in the past decade mostly happen in lower-to-middle-income neighborhoods. The Republic also previously found the Phoenix Police Department has one of the highest police shooting rates in the country.

‘We’re always going to target criminal behavior’

Recently, residents and activists have criticized the Phoenix Police Department’s tactics during the protests, saying officers’ actions were retaliatory and intended to deter people from rallying.

On Wednesday, former Missouri lawmaker Bruce Franks Jr., 35, who now lives in Arizona, filed a $2.4 million claim against Phoenix saying that his arrest during a demonstration in August was political prosecution meant to discourage further protests.

According to Franks, he was cooperative with the officers who arrested him. The police report described him as a violent aggressor participating in a riot. 

The police body camera footage of Franks’ arrest has not been released. He and 11 others are facing possible charges related to assaulting officers and rioting.

On June 1, some residents of the historic Garfield neighborhood east of downtown Phoenix told The Arizona Republic they were scared of the officers and not the protesters who ran through the neighborhood trying to hide from the police.

In one case, police arrested and injured a woman standing in front of her yard, later releasing her without any charges. Another woman, who has asthma and was not a protester, inhaled pepper spray that police had sprayed into the air and passed out in her yard.

On May 30, police arrested more than 100 people during a protest, but a judge later threw out the charges against many of them, ruling there wasn’t enough probable cause for their arrest. The arrests led to some immigrants being transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which opened deportation proceedings against them. 

On Aug. 6, Phoenix police arrested Ryan Tice, 22, on suspicion of aggravated assault on a police officer related to a June protest. Tice told The Republic he believes police were attempting to intimidate him and his fellow protesters to discourage them from protesting.

On Thursday, Williams addressed the overall criticism, saying her officers are not targeting anyone because of their profile and are not trying to prevent further peaceful protests. Arrests are made if someone is committing a crime, she said. 

“We’re always going to target criminal behavior,” she said. “But we’re definitely working through the process of managing and making sure people have the right to protest peacefully. And for the most part, some have been, but at the same time, there is a criminal element. I’m not going to have criminal behavior happen.”

Uriel Garcia covers public-safety issues in Arizona. Reach him at uriel.garcia@azcentral.com. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.

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Published at Thu, 10 Sep 2020 17:57:00 +0000

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