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Why Phoenix wants details from DOJ about police investigation

body camera and badge on officer
Christina Estes/KJZZ
/
editorial | staff
The South Mountain Precinct is the third precinct to receive body-worn cameras.

Phoenix has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to provide details on specific incidents referenced in the DOJ’s June 13 report that found the Police Department has a “pattern or practice” of violating constitutional and civil rights.

The DOJ reviewed thousands of documents, analyzed stops, arrests and response data, observed training, conducted interviews, watched hundreds of hours of body-worn camera video and spent more than 200 hours riding along in patrol cars.In its report, the DOJ referenced more than 100 incidents to illustrate examples of discriminatory policing, excessive force and other misconduct.

“It’s an incredibly harsh report, but I would remind folks that those are allegations,” said Councilwoman Ann O’Brien.

She said Phoenix needs details on the examples mentioned, just as the Louisville Metro Police Department got after a similar investigation

“In some cases, as Louisville pointed out, they used incidences, painted them in the worst light possible, but then failed to include the fact that Louisville had either taken disciplinary actions against the officers in those cases, possibly changed policy or training or whatever else needed to be changed,” O’Brien said.

In May 2023, two months after the DOJ announced its Louisville findings, the city launched a public website detailing the 63 incidents mentioned in the federal report, including officers’ status with the department. When the DOJ’s findings were announced in March 2023, roughly half of the 63 incidents had been reviewed by police, with disciplinary decisions made, while the rest were reviewed but not formally investigated or not reviewed at all.

In August 2023, media reports quoted Louisville’s newly appointed police chief, Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel, as saying formal reviews had been conducted on all incidents and "no further formal investigations will occur."

When it comes to Phoenix, O’Brien said, “If there are things that we have not handled or addressed or need to change, we will look at that. And I'm open to making those changes, as we changed our use-of-force policy already.”

Louisville officials agreed to enter into a federal court-enforceable consent decree. O’Brien remains opposed to federal oversight of the police department, as does the union representing officers.

On Friday, July 5, the city confirmed to KJZZ that it had not yet received a response for more information from the DOJ. In an email the city said:

“Information connecting described events to the specific incident would allow the City of Phoenix to identify each of the events more efficiently, and analyze relevant evidence including incident reports, body worn camera videos and other materials. This information would also assist the City in comparing the described incident to potential changes in policy, procedure and training as well as identify the outcome of internal investigations and officer discipline, where applicable. Additionally, the process of analyzing specific events, broadly described in the DOJ report, can better help the City of Phoenix make improvements where necessary.”

The DOJ has said it expects to work constructively with the city and the police department to ensure reforms are timely and fully implemented. It listed 36 recommendations aimed at improving policies, training, accountability and data collection.

On June 25, after the City Council, city manager and legal team met behind closed doors in executive session, the city sent this email to KJZZ News:

“We take the Justice Department’s report extremely seriously and are taking time to thoroughly understand its findings. We look forward to continued and collaborative discussions with the residents of Phoenix, City employees, and the DOJ in hopes of developing solutions that will work best for our community. To that end, the Mayor and City Council have asked the City Manager and the Police Chief to assess the recommended improvements.”

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As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.