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Arizona police accountability bill on life support

The proposed bill requires deadly use-of-force cases to be investigated by outside agencies.

PHOENIX — A deadly use-of-force bill is in limbo at the Arizona State Legislature after the House Speaker and a popular sheriff voiced their opposition this week.

The bill would require deadly use-of-force cases to be investigated by outside agencies and is considered by police reform advocates a crucial step towards more accountable policing.

Opponents say the current system already demands accountability.

Bill passed by 9-0

House Bill 2765 passed at the committee level on a 9-0 vote with Democrats and Republicans both supporting it. Its sponsor, Reginald Bolding (D), said he had the votes to pass it in the full House as well after amendments would be added. But House Speaker Rusty Bowers has not given the bill a hearing on the House floor and on Wednesday Sheriff Paul Penzone spoke up.

“It is not that I am in opposition to the philosophy of what’s being accomplished. But, I have absolute concerns about this legislative bill because it falls far short of what is needed to truly make positive reform in this particular area of law enforcement,” Penzone said.

Bolding has sponsored bill in the past

The bill states “If a law enforcement officer uses deadly physical force… an investigator… not from the same… agency… shall conduct the investigation into the officer’s use of deadly physical force.”

Right now several law enforcement agencies across the country require third-party investigations of deadly shootings involving police. The bill would have required police in the state’s two largest counties, Maricopa and Pima, to do the same. The law enforcement agencies would have one year to come up with a plan to make it work.

“It provided a great deal of flexibility so the sheriff or other law enforcement agencies could create a plan of their own,” said Bolding (D) of Phoenix. Bolding has sponsored the bill at least twice in the past.

“I think the sheriff is playing catch-up to not only what other legislatures around the country are doing, but what the public is asking for.”

MCSO attended October meeting about the bill

Representatives of the sheriff’s office attended a meeting about the proposal that involved law enforcement stakeholders from across the state. Those representatives did not voice their disapproval of the premise of the bill, Bolding said.

The bill was heard in committee on February 17th. It wasn’t until March 4th that Penzone signed his opposition to it.

In a tweet Thursday, Penzone said, “I believe there is a model where law enforcement can provide shared responsibilities and investigate deadly use of force incidents on behalf of other jurisdictions… while well intended, House Bill 2765 is inadequate and insufficient to provide what is needed.”

Bolding accused Penzone of delaying the solution.

“While the sheriff and others say this is their top priority, the question is when? When is it going to be their top priority because year after year they’ve had chances to act on this subject,” Bolding said.

Both leaders appear to agree that police agencies investigating their own deadly shootings has caused controversy over the years.

“This challenge has existed for as long as we can remember,” Penzone said.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers also weighed in this week, saying the proposal needs more details and more time.

There is one day left to move the bill to the House floor before it likely dies. It has support from many law enforcement organizations and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

Arizona Politics

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