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Phoenix hires civilian director for police oversight office

Phoenix has hired a director for its new police accountability office, one week after a judge struck down a new state law that would have disqualified the city’s preferred candidates.

Roger Smith, the head of Cleveland’s professional standards office for police and one-time counsel for New York City’s civilian police review board, will lead the Office of Accountability and Transparency, City Manager Jeff Barton announced.

In a statement, Mayor Kate Gallego said the creation of the office, and Smith’s hire, are an “important milestone.”

“Our goal is to use data, mediation, and transparency to rebuild trust between the police department and the community,” Gallego said. “We are very fortunate to have found a person who has deep experience in this work.”

Less than two weeks ago, hiring Smith wouldn’t have been possible.

That’s because Republican lawmakers passed a law in June that required police officers be in charge of police oversight agencies, and required members of civilian review boards to have formal law enforcement training.

But a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Nov. 2 the laws were unconstitutionally passed as part of the state budget. 

The case was similar to a separate lawsuit challenging a statewide ban on public school mask mandates, which was struck down by the Arizona Supreme Court.

“It was good that the judge decided to allow the OAT office to be independent,” Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia told KJZZ. “I think this gentleman (Smith) was a prosecutor. But he’s also had experience in an office similar to one like the one that we’re hoping to build here.”

“I think that he’s going to be successful so long as we involve the community and those that were impacted by the police department here, to try to find solutions and try to find a better way forward,” he added.

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Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.