Phoenix City Council passes creation of police oversight office

May 19, 2021, 5:31 PM | Updated: May 20, 2021, 8:50 am

PHOENIX — The Phoenix City Council on Wednesday approved the creation of a police oversight office by a vote of 5-4.

The passage comes after the council rejected the ordinance to create the office by a vote of 5-4 in November of last year, which halted more than a year of progress by supporters.

Public comment for the item lasted around an hour, with a majority speaking in favor of the creation of the office.

“The testimonies we heard today from families impacted by police violence is exactly why we need this office,” Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia, who led the effort to increase police oversight and voted yes on the item, said in a statement after the vote. “I am grateful for the community members who have long advocated for this change at the city.

“The work continues and I hope you will continue to engage our office and the city in the implementation of this office.”

The ordinance says the role of the office – known as the Office of Accountability and Transparency – will be to monitor or investigate members of the Phoenix Police Department, provide recommendations for training, policy and disciplinary actions as well as ensure complaints against officers are handled fairly and objectively, including a thorough and fair investigation.

Staff of the office will also monitor or investigate use of force, in-custody deaths, and other community complaints before making recommendations on whether the investigation was sufficient and suggest any discipline or needed policy changes.

Former law enforcement or a family member of a law enforcement member are not allowed to serve as part of the staff, and there will be community involvement in the hiring process.

The Phoenix Police Department having a record number of officer-involved shootings in 2018 and multiple lawsuits over alleged misconduct bringing about costly settlements resulted in an increased effort to create the oversight office.

Councilmembers Laura Pastor, Betty Guardado and Yassamin Ansari and Mayor Kate Gallego joined Garcia in voting yes on the plan.

“Today will allow us to have more accountability and transparency and a stronger, safer city,” Gallego said. “The city of Phoenix was the largest city without civilian oversight, today that has changed.”

Councilmembers Ann O’Brien, Jim Waring, Debra Stark and Sal DiCiccio voted no on the measure.

O’Brien said her office received over 100 phone calls and emails from residents of her district who were opposed of the office and the ordinance, saying they felt it demeaned the police department’s service to the community and is part of the “defund the police narrative.”

Waring thought the $3 million for the office could be better deployed filling the gaps in the ranks of Phoenix officers.

“While we may have budgeted 3,100 and change officers, we only really have 2,800 because they are quitting faster than we can recruit them,” Waring said. “The bottom line is when we are down to 2,500 officers or a number like that, you will miss those that are gone.”

DiCiccio, one of the plan’s most vocal opponents, said the vote was not about acting for accountability or transparency but “handing over unlimited power to hate groups.”

“​What Phoenix did today, was approve the most radical, extremist, and anti-police plan in the entire country,” DiCiccio said in an email statement. “The defund the police movement is the real deal here in Phoenix. The vast majority of the community supports the police versus this small group of 100 people.

“These radical anti-police protesters will not stop until they have destroyed the foundations of law and order in our city.”

The City Council held its first work-study to discuss the possible adoption of civilian police oversight in September 2019.

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Phoenix City Council passes creation of police oversight office