MCSO Presents Plan To Deal With Institutional Bias

Published: Thursday, September 28, 2017 - 7:10am
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The parties involved in the Melendres v. Penzone racial profiling lawsuit met in federal court on Wednesday.

Two annual reports commissioned by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office after the Melendres settlement showed many deputies are still engaged in biased traffic stops of Latinos and African-Americans.

Cecillia Wang is an attorney for the plaintiff class in the case. She said the challenge is to figure out how to address bias at both the individual and institutional level.

“It’s a delicate balance because you need to uproot the bad actors who are openly hostile to the work that’s being done," Wang said. "But then you also need to give people who want to work in good faith the tools they need to reform.”

Wang said all parties need to work on shifting the culture within MCSO, "Particularly the supervisor culture," she said. "So that rank and file, from top to bottom within the agency view the provision of constitutional, fair and unbiased policing services as part of their law enforcement mission."

But Wang said there are still supervisors within the agency who are very resistant to change. She suggested MCSO look at personnel practices as well as instituting new training.

Robert Warshaw is a monitor for Judge Murray Snow in the Melendres settlement. He warned that the plan submitted by MCSO was heavy on training and statistical analysis.

"They must further the process by looking at personnel issues," Warshaw said. "At the end of the day, police agencies and the cultures that police agencies adopt are very much contingent on whom it is that populates the police agency."

Attorneys for both sides of the case identified 35 current MCSO deputies who were flagged for racial profiling. Those deputies will receive more oversight from their supervisors as well as additional training.

Sheriff Paul Penzone agreed that there are individuals within his organization who are resistant to changes.

"They are embracing the past and not moving to the future,” Penzone said. He said the 35 deputies being evaluated should remain on duty while they work with their supervisors to try and change their behavior.

Judge Snow chided MCSO for taking so long. “Four years - four years!” Snow shouted as he recalled when he first ordered the Sheriff’s Office to conduct the training. However, he said he would be patient with the plan if the Sheriff’s Office shows diligence in solving the problem.

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