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Phoenix police release report on 2018 spike in shootings

April 19, 2019

PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Police Department on Friday released a study into what possibly contributed to a sharp rise last year in shootings involving their officers, half of which ended with the use of deadly force.

Police Chief Jeri Williams shared findings from an outside report the city commissioned in response to an unprecedented 44 shooting incidents in 2018, 23 of which resulted in a person’s death. That was the largest number of police-involved fatalities among metropolitan law enforcement agencies nationwide last year. It was a sharp contrast to between 2009 and 2017, when Phoenix averaged 23 officer-involved shootings each year.

The 72-page study, Williams said, is an effort by police to continue to learn and improve.

“I want it to be clear. Forty-four does not represent who we are as the Phoenix Police Department,” Williams said at a news conference. “We are responsible, we’re accountable, we’re transparent and we’re self-reflective.”

The National Police Foundation, an independent nonprofit that led the study, did not find any single issue to explain the rise. But the report notes that there were more encounters between officers and armed subjects. In addition, there was a rise in assaults on officers last year in Phoenix and other surrounding municipalities. Officers who gave feedback for the study felt their training did not sufficiently prepare them for real-life scenarios.

The study issued nine recommendations. They include greater departmental transparency, alternative resources for mentally ill subjects and community engagement.

Jim Burch, the foundation’s president, said the group interviewed several representatives from community organizations. Most expressed concern about law enforcement culture and a lack of accountability. According to the study, some called it the “Joe Arpaio effect,” referring to Maricopa County’s former longtime sheriff. Community members say they’ve seen social media from people connected to local police associations supporting policies reminiscent of Arpaio’s aggressive approach to immigration enforcement and racial profiling.

One concern community members and officers interviewed for the study share is the handling of a mental health crisis.

Williams acknowledged that there are times an officer is not the best person to be dispatched to a situation involving mental illness. She said one idea that will be explored is having a mental health professional ride side-by-side with a patrol officer or a crisis intervention team.

“My team and I, as well as the City of Phoenix, are firmly committed to taking each one of these recommendations seriously,” Williams said.

Critics say police have not done enough to address officers’ conduct. Jarrett Maupin, a local activist who has worked with victims alleging police brutality, questioned the veracity of the study.

“The report states that officers expressed concern with being not properly or fully trained to do their jobs safely and effectively,” Maupin said in a statement. “Yet, the report also states that Phoenix police have no insufficiencies or inadequacies with respect to their current policies and procedures.”

Police are also bolstering camera technology to assist with accountability. On Monday, the department debuted a new body camera system. The City Council approved a five-year, $5.7 million contract with Scottsdale-based Axon Enterprise in February to provide body cameras for 2,000 officers.

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