Phoenix Council Studies Police Oversight Models

By Christina Estes
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2019 - 8:20am
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2019 - 12:28pm

Phoenix police
Christina Estes/KJZZ
A Phoenix Police Department SUV.

Phoenix leaders are in the process of exploring civilian oversight options for the police department. On Tuesday, the council held its first work study session called by Mayor Kate Gallego.

During the three-hour meeting, council members learned how the current complaint and disciplinary process works and explored general oversight models.

Liana Perez was Tucson’s first independent police auditor. She gave an example of how analyzing data led to a change in training many years ago. The oversight board got several complaints about chokeholds involving officers who all attended the same academy class.

“For that particular class, that technique was actually taught by an instructor that was not within our department from another agency that had been brought in and that actual tactic is not within policy within our organization,” she said. “What they did at that time, they took that whole class back to the academy for that particular level of instruction and redid it.”

After retiring from Tucson, Perez took a job with the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. She told council members she’s often asked, “Is one model better than the other?”

If Phoenix decides to implement a civilian oversight entity, Perez said leaders must determine the needs of the community and stakeholders should be assessed along with levels of support.

“You’re going to have to decide going forward what works best for your community and what you’re trying to accomplish,” she said. “Is it building the relationships between the law enforcement and your community? Is it offering that level of transparency on how complaints are investigated and the outcomes of them?”

Perez highlighted the strengths and challenges of three oversight models: review model, monitoring/auditing model, and investigative authority model.

Assistant City Manager Milton Dohoney shared research staff gathered over the summer by talking with and visiting different cities around the country. Key takeaways included a warning to expect push back and not to under fund the program.

“What we heard is there will be some elected officials that will be supportive and others that won’t,” he said. “There might be positions taken on the editorial page of your local newspaper, all of those kinds of things of things are commonplace and so what they were sharing with us is you shouldn’t necessarily be put off by that, just know that that’s going to happen, it’s something that you have to work through.”

If the council approves a civilian oversight model, costs would vary depending on size and scope. Dohoney provide an estimate between $994,600 and $1,723,300 for a review model; between $1,054,600 and $2,258,200 for an auditor model; and between $2,360,000 and $3,423,500 for an investigative model.

At the request of some councilmembers, staff will present more details on oversight models during the next work study session on Oct. 15.

After Tuesday’s session, Mayor Gallego released this statement:

"As promised in July, the city council held its first work study session on civilian oversight options today. Staff presented months of extensive research on what three oversight models would look like in Phoenix. This research also covered what the legal ramifications for each model were, including whether they would require a city election to implement. 

"As I have said before, this conversation is a starting point, not an ending. This is a process, and it needs to be a deliberate one where we are gathering input and understanding what can and should be done. Our job as elected officials is to understand different viewpoints. I encourage the members of the council to continue their active work in engaging with constituents to gather more input on potential oversight options. 

"Today’s topic is one part of a much larger conversation. The Request for Information for our Early Intervention System will go out next week. Next month, our ad-hoc committee will work with staff to provide input on the community survey on public safety we talked about in July. 

"The efforts we’re making — the ad-hoc committee, the community survey, the early intervention system, accelerating the rollout of body worn cameras, increased mental and behavioral health training — are all major strides toward better serving our community and increasing trust."

Poder in Action, a group that has been critical of Phoenix police and called for an independent civilian oversight board, released this statement Wednesday morning:

"We will not accept civilian oversight that creates the illusion of transparency and accountability, but lacks the power to change police conduct in Phoenix," said Isabel Garcia, program director.

"This is not the first time Phoenix city councils have entertained the idea of civilian oversight. The people of our city have a long history of fighting for police accountability. But we have been let down by politicians who catered to the reckless demands of the police union, which has fought every effort for commonsense police reform."

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