KJZZ is a service of Rio Salado College,
and Maricopa Community Colleges

Copyright © 2024 KJZZ/Rio Salado College/MCCCD
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Díaz and Moore: Consent decree is the only way for Phoenix police to rebuild trust

Phoenix police officers confront a protester during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in May 2020.
Blake Benard/Special for Cronkite News
Blake Benard
Phoenix police officers confront a protester during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in May 2020.

It’s been a little more than a week since the Justice Department released the results of its damaging investigation into the Phoenix Police Department. It found systemic discrimination by officers, excessive use of force and violations of the community’s civil rights — especially for people of color, those experiencing homelessness and those with serious mental illness.

Officers unions have blasted the report and say it will hurt officer morale and recruitment. Many city leaders have said for months they will not agree to federal oversight, and Phoenix City Council member and former Phoenix police Officer Kevin Robinson told The Show last week he expects the issue of who controls the department to end up in court.

But the editorial board of the Arizona Republic came out with an editorial over the weekend declaring that a consent decree and federal oversight is the only path to reform.

Republic editorial page editor Elvia Díaz and columnist Greg Moore joined The Show to talk more about why.

Full conversation

LAUREN GILGER: Elvia, I want to start with you here. You know the arguments against entering into consent decree: that it’s costly, that it has had mixed results in other cities. Why do you think that’s the only option at this point for the Phoenix PD?

ELVIA DÍAZ: Well, Lauren, you outlined it very nicely there in the introduction. Confronted by their own abuses of authority, the Phoenix Police Department and city leaders who oversee the police department had been completely unmoved. And for years that the Department of Justice has been investigating the city — actually for three years exactly. (The Phoenix Police Department has) done very little substantively to reform itself.

And yes, as a board, obviously, we had lengthy discussions before we wrote this editorial. And a consent decree, it is true that it is invasive. And we acknowledge that in the editorial. And it is expensive. But it is the only mechanism, the only path to accountability — again, because city leaders and police have not been able to do it themselves.

GILGER: Greg, you’ve written about this from the perspective of the Black community, which has been disproportionately impacted by these civil rights violations, according to the DOJ report. What are you hearing? What’s your reaction to the fallout?

GREG MOORE: So there are a lot of folks who I talked to who say, yeah, the Justice Department just called water wet. It’s it’s a “no duh” kind of reaction from a whole lot of people who are really plugged in and really pay attention. I think it’s incumbent on Black leadership — dnd however that looks, whether that’s elected officials, whether that’s community organizers, pastors at local churches, I don’t care who it is — but they needed to do more sooner because these statistics, if they weren’t so troubling, would be hilarious.

Like, there’s no way in the world that these disproportionate numbers could be accurate unless things were so far out of balance that it just looks like nobody was paying attention. It’s really frustrating.

GILGER: You also wrote about how this report and its findings calls out Black leaders as much as police, you said. Why?

MOORE: For sure. So imagine you’re a pastor at a church, and everybody at church is just kind of grumbling and complaining because they get pulled over so often picking their kids up from school. How hard would it have been to organize some kind of rally where you go to the police station, you talk to the police officials, you invite the police into your communities. You reach out and say, “Hey guys, I know that you’re just trying to do your job. I know what a difficult job it is, and we appreciate you. But this seems pretty out of line. This seems pretty imbalanced.”

I think about the the part of the report that mentions how many times folks were getting pulled over in school zones. And it just makes me wonder how many of those tickets were for something like texting while driving, which is a problem. But I think white people do it too.

And so I think that if you were to have policing that didn’t just focus on certain communities and just criminalize their very existence, that the numbers wouldn’t have been so lopsided.

GILGER: Elvia, I want to turn to you because the editorial really addresses the question of leadership and accountability. As you mentioned, the city and the department have said that they are making changes, have made changes. The report gives some credit to Chief Michael Sullivan for updating use of force policies and training, things like that. They launched a new crime reduction plan.

But you’re saying that it’s clear that you cannot trust the department to police itself here. And it has probably something to do with this idea of leadership and accountability. What are the things that concern you most on that front?

DÍAZ: Well, a lot of things. And let’s begin with that response that they had to the investigation. For months, the city of Phoenix had been fighting the Justice Department, asking that they see the report ahead of time, ahead of the public. And apparently that didn’t happen. So they found out at the same time that we did.

And so after a week of reading the report, of finding, their response has been incredibly troubling. And I think it shows the kind of leadership, lack of leadership that they have had in managing the police department. We have a very politically divided city council that had been essentially saying, “We’re going to fight this in court.”

The police brass — meaning the police unions, who are very powerful in the city of Phoenix — went overdrive against the consent decree and against a federal investigation. And they have vowed to fight tooth and nail.

And then ultimately, the state Legislature has also undermined the city’s ability for oversight. So this is incredibly frustrating. Mayor Kate Gallego, the only thing that she has been able to say is that she’s going to organize listening sessions. No, that’s not enough.

GILGER: Greg, let me end with you here and ask you about the question of trust. In order for a law enforcement agency to function the way it’s supposed to, it has to have the trust of the community. And it sounds like that hasn’t existed for a while in the Black community. Will a consent decree rebuild that? What else needs to happen? Is that. Is that enough?

MOORE: That’s a great question. A consent decree can help. What it’s going to take is both sides to move toward each other. I think reasonable people can all recognize that police work is hard work. Police don’t get called when things are going well. You call the police when you have no other options, and everyone recognizes — everyone with any sense, everyone who’s at all reasonable — recognizes that that’s a tough job.

Everyone recognizes that by and large, police are good people. They would have to be in order to go into the profession because you’re out there to help, to protect. But somewhere along the line, things get kind of bent and kind of twisted. And so what police then need to do is say, “You know what? We can’t just defend everything as if there are no problems whatsoever. We can’t say stuff like 99.9% of the time we’re doing OK.”

That’s not going to cut it. So police have to acknowledge that even though they were trying to do the right thing, the people they were protecting and serving have a vastly different experience than what police intended to create.

That creates an opportunity for trust, because when you take accountability, when one side says, “Hey, we know you’re giving it your best, but we’re still suffering.” When the other side says, “Hey, thanks for acknowledging that we were doing our best. We apologize for the mistakes we were making. How can we help?” That’s what it’s got to come down to.

The consent decree can point the way, but it’s going to take rank-and-file police, police who’ve been doing it a long time, the newcomers. It’s going to take community members, people who are new to town, people who’ve been here, been established. Everybody has to move toward each other because we have seen what happens in other communities when there is no trust between police and the communities they serve.

And when the population swells and the problems come, things get really sideways really quickly, and you end up with entire groups of people who have no access to the system. They can’t contribute to the economy. They can’t get good educations. It spirals out of control so fast.

These communities get cut off. They become insular. They become bigger problems.

So I would hope — and I don’t know how to create it — but I would hope that everybody involved moves toward each other in a respectful way, because then we can really start to see some change, and we look back five, 10, 20 years from now and go, “Wow, this was a real inflection point. Phoenix looks now as it should because we did this the right way when we had the opportunity.”

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.
Related Content