Phoenix Police Department pushes DOJ on resolution method for civil rights investigation

Jan 11, 2024, 11:34 AM | Updated: 12:31 pm

PHOENIX – The Phoenix Police Department is pushing for a resolution to a long-running Department of Justice investigation into alleged civil rights violations that doesn’t involve cumbersome federal oversight.

An attorney for Arizona’s largest law enforcement agency said in a letter to the Department of Justice on Thursday it wants the process to be resolved through a technical assistance letter rather than a consent decree, which arguably would create restrictions that impede ongoing reform efforts.

The four-page letter was accompanied by a 53-page report detailing the department’s commitment to reform, including changes implemented before and since the DOJ started its investigation.

Why does Phoenix want to avoid DOJ consent decree?

“Although the City and PPD [Phoenix Police Department] welcome the additional insights that the DOJ findings report may bring, they are not willing to hand over PPD’s continuing reform to a consent decree process that is complicated, expensive, and cedes control to the DOJ, an independent monitor, and a federal judge,” the report says.

The letter from attorney Michael R. Bromwich accused the DOJ of locking into “a one-size-fits-all approach to police reform” over the past 12 years, specifically citing consent decrees following recent high-profile investigations into the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments.

“During that time period, the DOJ has insisted on negotiating a consent decree with the city and police department under investigation in every case in which it has found a pattern or practice of Constitutional and/or statutory violations,” the letter says. “It has not varied the solutions according to the size, history or culture of the individual city and law enforcement agency.”

Why is Phoenix Police Department under federal investigation?

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has been reviewing the department’s use-of-force practices since launching the probe in August 2021. The federal probe is also looking at allegations of retaliation over activity protected under the First Amendment and discrimination against people with disabilities or who are experiencing homelessness.

The city has been maintaining a web page with resources related to the investigation and the police department’s response.

The department also has scheduled a series community presentations to inform the public about the probe ahead its conclusion.

Phoenix officials believe the investigation is winding down, although the DOJ hasn’t provided a timeline for when it might end or shared any of its findings.

Chief Michael Sullivan: ‘It’s all about continuous improvement’

Michael Sullivan was brought in as Phoenix’s interim police chief in September 2022 to guide the department through the review process.

“It’s all about continuous improvement, and that’s been a mantra of mine since I arrived last September and will continue to be what I drive into this department during my time here,” Sullivan told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead on Thursday.

In December, the department completed revisions to its use-of-force policy. The changes will be implemented this year after the entire staff goes through training.

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Phoenix Police Department pushes DOJ on resolution method for civil rights investigation