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Phoenix City Council votes down creation of police oversight office

PHOENIX – The Phoenix City Council on Wednesday rejected an ordinance that would have officially established a police accountability office by a 5-4 vote, derailing more than a year of progress by supporters of increased oversight.

The oversight movement gained steam as the Phoenix Police Department came under increased scrutiny following a record number of officer-involved shootings in 2018 and multiple lawsuits over alleged misconduct that resulted in costly settlements.

In September 2019, the City Council held its first work-study session to discuss possible options and legality when it comes to adopting civilian police oversight.

In February, the council approved an initial proposal to create the Office of Accountability and Transparency as a city agency along with a Community Review Board by a 5-4 vote.

The city budget adopted by a 7-2 vote in June included funding allocated for to establish the OAT.

Councilman Michael Nowakowski voted in favor February plan and the budget, but he voted no this week to stymie the ordinance.

In explaining his vote during Wednesday’s meeting, Nowakowski cited the perception that transparency was lacking when the plan was developed.

“I believe we should have some kind of a community outreach where it’s transparent where people can actually have some input and that everybody understands what we’re going through,” he said.

“Just having the majority of the people that were actually pushing for this asking us to vote no on it says that we haven’t done that community outreach that we should have.”

Councilman Carlos Garcia, who led efforts to increase police oversight and voted yes, acknowledged the community’s pain over what he considers a lack of accountability. But he said citizens who opposed the OAT ordinance because it didn’t go far enough or lacked “perfection” should consider it part of a larger process.

“This office was never meant to end police brutality or end systemic racism,” he said. “It’s a part of it, it’s a tool that is only going to work so long as community are engaged and work alongside with it and eventually trust it.”

Nowakowski’s time in office is coming to an end in April after 12 years because of term limits.

None of the five candidates to succeed him in District 7 received a majority in November’s primary election. Phoenix voters will choose between the top two finishers, Yassamin Ansari and Cinthia Estela, in a March runoff.

Garcia told the Phoenix New Times the police accountability issue is likely dead until Nowakowski is out of office.

Councilman Sal DiCiccio, the defeated plan’s most vocal opponent, said it was “part of the national movement to destroy our police department, destroy our citizenry and make our citizens unsafe.”

Jim Waring, Thelda Williams and Debra Stark joined DiCiccio and Nowakowski in voting no. Mayor Kate Gallego sided with Garcia, Betty Guardado and Laura Pastor with yes votes.

On Tuesday, Gallego mentioned support for a civilian oversight office in her state of the city address.

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