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Q&A with Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams on protests, progress

(KTAR News Photo/Ali Vetnar)

PHOENIX – After a spring and summer of protests, lawsuits and accusations of excessive use of force, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said Wednesday her department continues to make strides in community relations.

“As with any police department, any agency, we do have more work to do – we don’t shy away from it,” Williams said on KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show.

“But we don’t want perfection to be the enemy of progress.”

Starting in June, Williams’s department began implementing changes to some policies, getting rid of a neck hold to restrain suspects.

“I think the majority of the community is seeing [new policies] as a positive sign,” Williams said.

“We’ve been going at this for about 100 days or so in spite of COVID, in spite of calls for service, in spite of violent crime increases. As usual, Phoenix PD has risen to the occasion.

“A lot has happened and a lot is going on.”

Police were on duty for more than three weeks of downtown protests against the in-custody deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Dion Johnson in metro Phoenix.

Williams touched on several topic during the nearly nine-minute interview, including these:

How do you respond to criticism of police actions during the protests?

Williams: “When folks come out to protest and it ends up being peaceful, we don’t take any action. But at the same time, there are individuals – a very small number of them – who want to commit criminal acts.

“I can’t allow criminal acts to happen in our city. When we see other cities across the country either demolished or burned or otherwise, I think we’ve been able to get the word out about how important First Amendment is and free speech is, while at the same time letting people know very clearly that we cannot support violent or criminal behavior. That takes away from the important message of the peaceful protesters.”

What differences are there now in Phoenix PD from when the protests started?

“We’ve deployed body-worn cameras, we’ve made adjustments to not having the carotid-control technique policy anymore, we’ve made adjustments to our shooting at moving vehicles … and we’ve also added a duty-to-intervene and report violations of excessive force that officers may witness.”

How has the community responded to the changes?

Williams: “I think the majority of the community is seeing it as a positive sign, but if there is one person or a group of people or neighborhoods of individuals who don’t have trust in the police department, I’m not just going to give up and walk away.

“You have to fill those gaps and try to figure out how to best engage those communities.”

How do you make sure morale stays high?

Williams: “We’ve really been stepping up our mental health and access to mental health for all of our employees. And that’s not just the sworn side, it’s the civilian side, too. And we’ve also started to deploy a therapy dog.

“Just those small things [are] making a big difference.”

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