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This Phoenix leader says DOJ consent degree won't help Phoenix police 'get better'

Phoenix police headquarters
Christina Estes/KJZZ
editorial | staff
The front entrance at Phoenix police headquarters.

It’s been one week since the Department of Justice released a bombshell report about the Phoenix Police Department, and reaction is pouring in.

The report came after a three-year investigation and slammed Phoenix PD with findings that it systematically discriminated against people of color, those experiencing homelessness, and people with serious mental illness.

Now, the question of what’s next for the department hangs in the balance. All signs point to a consent decree for the Department of Justice — which means it would be under the supervision of a monitor. But, some city leaders have said in the past they are unwilling to give control to federal authorities and are concerned about its cost and effectiveness.

That includes Phoenix City Councilmember Kevin Robinson. Before being elected to the council, he served at the Phoenix Police Department for more than three decades. He’s also a professor in Arizona State University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Full conversation

LAUREN GILGER: So we spoke with you on the show back in January when you had voiced concerns about kind of not seeing the result of the investigation ahead of time. You got the report, I understand, when the public did. What's your reaction to the findings?

KEVIN ROBINSON: You know, it's, it, it's, it's far reaching. It was, it was a hard read. It really was. And I, and I'm probably three quarters of the way through it. I'm really taking my time and digesting it, writing notes.

I want some answers to some things from the Police Department. But so far, nothing really surprises me. A lot of this, a lot that's in the report was already known, either it came to our attention because it was, it was, you know, it was in the news or we were briefed or made aware of it through the processes within the city.

GILGER: So you do not take issue with these findings, you believe what's, what's been found here?

ROBINSON: No, I'm not saying that I, I know what's in the report, how the report was written. I think it was sensationalized a little bit and I think that's where a lot of folks have concern. What I'm hoping we are able to do, and I say we, I'm talking to the city of Phoenix and the Department of Justice. I'm hoping that we can sit down and talk to them about these individual assertions or allegations, however you want to look at it, that they have, you know, the conclusions that they've arrived at. I want us to be able to understand how they got there. You know, what, what was the basis for their findings and on most of them, we will probably agree.

But there are those and I've parts of the report that I've read, I'm scratching my head trying to figure out, how did they come to that conclusion?

GILGER: Any specific examples?

ROBINSON: Certainly, you know, there, there are a couple of things quite honestly, you know, they talk about where the city is not doing enough to respond to, I say the city, the Police Department and the city are not doing enough to respond to folks who may be in a mental crises.

I know we have spent well over $15 million right now in an effort to have resources available when those situations, when we encounter those situations. But what we have to keep in mind is someone may call 911 and say, my brother is doing X Y Z. He, he is, he's threatening, he's going crazy, he's off his meds. There may be a call like that and that necessitates a police officer to respond and what we're doing now or what we have been doing for some time now is we have mental health experts trained within the department and outside of the department who can respond on those calls.

But the initial call is gonna require a police officer. There's just no way around that. And you know, the department or the Department of Justice really takes exception with that. But I, I, I, I want them to understand a little bit more completely how law enforcement really works and I don't know that they've taken that into consideration.

Kevin Robinson
City of Phoenix
handout | agency | from: Athena Ankrah to: web date: Jan 17, 2024, 9:39 AM subject: TS Photo: Robinson on DOJ/ Phx PD mailing list: [email protected] Filter messages from this mailing list mailed-by: rioradio.
Kevin Robinson

GILGER: Let me ask you about, what's next here, councilmember? You've been on The Show before talking about your concerns with the department entering into a consent decree and being under the control of the DOJ. Do you think that's where this is headed? And, and would you agree to that as a councilmember?

ROBINSON: Well, the DOJ has made that very clear. That's what they think is the direction to go. I, I would not agree to that as a councilmember right now because I don't think based on what I've read so far that everything that's in the report requires that level of scrutiny from the Department of Justice. And my biggest reason is that you don't see other agencies, other cities that have gone into consent decrees, you really haven't seen them get better.

You see a spike in crime in some cases, you have issues within the organization and others and I'll bring it home and give you a perfect example. Former Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone. I've known Paul for, you know, decades and he and I were talking and his biggest frustration with the Department of Justice and the consent decree under the, over the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office wasn't they didn't deserve it.

You know, Paul understood that a lot happened under a previous administration. But all the steps that he took, everything that he tried to do to correct the agency, that monitor or a couple of monitors would say, well, that's not enough, you have to do this, that or the other thing. And at one point, and I think that's probably still the case in the sheriff's office, they have more detectives investigating other employees within the sheriff's office than they have actually investigating certain crimes.

That, that's the, that is the disparity that I don't think anybody wants because the public is not well served under a situation like that. And that's where I'm coming from.

I think that we will be able to sit down with the Department of Justice once we've had an opportunity to thoroughly digest this report. And like I said, there's gonna be things we're gonna, yeah, I get it, right there. We, we know, this is what we've done to change. This is what we're doing in the future. And, you know, we can move on from there and that's my hope, is that they will listen to us and we can probably hopefully find an alternative to a full-fledged consent decree.

GILGER: An alternative. Last 30 seconds here. I mean, do you anticipate though, given what the DOJ is saying and has found here that this will end up in court?

ROBINSON: Oh, most likely. You know, unfortunately, it probably will. The DOJ is pretty, you know, they're pretty well dug in. And I've had opportunities to meet with them prior to the report being released and they, you know, they had a course and they were gonna follow that course and that is what they've always done and they think it's effective.

And I'm of a different opinion and that's based on, like you said, 36 years of law enforcement experience studying these things at, at the, you know, the college level and now being on the City Council and paying attention to these things. So there's, there's a lot more to come.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text is edited for length and clarity, and may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.
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