Phoenix police oversight director discusses role, timeline, process for investigations
PHOENIX — Roger Smith has been on the job as director of the Office of Accountability and Transparency for the city of Phoenix for about three months.
He’s the first director for the new entity, which will monitor or investigate members of the Phoenix Police Department and ensuing complaints against officers.
Smith, hired in November, joined KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Wednesday to discuss his role at OAT, and the timeline and process for investigations in the department.
Here’s a sampling of questions and answers from the interview:
Q: Will these investigations coincide with investigations by the Professional Standards Bureau or the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office?
A: Exactly how it’s going to work in any given case is going to vary, but most of the time what you’re going to see is when OAT gets involved in a case, we’re going to have to first notify the city manager and the police chief, as well as once it comes into existence, the civilian review board exactly what our intentions are regarding that case. So, if we intend to initiate our own investigation, we’ll say that. If we intend to monitor the PSB investigation, we’ll say that.
Q: Are you the person who has sole discretion in deciding that? Is it a board issue or is it assigned to you?
A: So as far as determining OAT’s involvement, I would make those decisions. But there are also situations where the city manager can direct us to be involved. So for instance, if we’re not going to investigate something and the city manager determined that we should, then we would investigate that as well.
Q: There are a couple of concerns from some people about this office’s creation and one of them is the insinuation that PSB or the (Maricopa) County Attorney’s Office isn’t necessarily doing a fair investigation. Is that the position you hold?
A: That transparency component is important for understanding what we do and essentially to ensure that there will be an investigation that has the appropriate level of civilian involvement and an appropriate level of independence from the Phoenix Police Department that would cause us to get involved.
Q: The other concern is the fact that nobody in this office has policing experience. Is that valuable? Or do you think you would need experienced officers to advise why a police officer would, or wouldn’t do something?
A: Well, there’s a couple of things in play there first throughout the process of the investigation. We’ll be hearing from people at the police department to interpret police department rules. You don’t need a person in law enforcement to be conducting the investigation. The office does not prevent anybody who is familiar with law enforcement and law enforcement procedure from being involved.
Q: Does your office have authority to punish at all? Or is it just to make recommendations if you find something different than other entities?
A: We do not have authority to punish. We will make recommendations to inform the disciplinary process.
Q: In the case of the 13-year-old girl, have you made a decision yet whether or not your office will open an investigation or are you going to wait and see what happens with police and the county attorney’s office?
A: Well, at this point I am the only staff that OAT has. But I can tell you that it’s going to be 6-7 months before we’re initiating our own investigations. We will be monitoring and participating in some investigations before that time.