PHOENIX — Arizona police chiefs and sheriffs say they're listening to citizens who don't want cops investigating cops in their own departments.
Their solution: a new unit within the Arizona Department of Public Safety for independent investigations of police shootings.
"Investigations should never be influenced by politics or other outside forces," Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said Monday.
"They should be about seeking facts and speaking to facts and truth."
Penzone was among more than a dozen heads of Arizona law enforcement agencies attending the Capitol rollout of a bill that would create the new DPS office and require all law enforcement agencies in the state to get outside reviews of police shootings.
"It is my hope that this legislation will affirm and reaffirm public trust in our law enforcement," said House Speaker Rusty Bowers, the bill's lead sponsor.
Two Democrats - Reps. Cesar Chavez and Jennifer Longdon - and two other Republicans - Reps. Ben Toma and Kevin Payne - are co-sponsors.
Police shootings have become a flashpoint for protest and violence in recent years. Doubts about the integrity and outcome of shooting investigations have heightened mistrust of police among communities they serve.
Last August, the U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation of the Phoenix Police Department's use of force.
What bill would do
The legislation, HB 2650, was advanced Monday by the House Military Affairs Committee by a 15-0 vote. The bill comes up again for a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.
Under the legislation:
-The state would spend $24 million to create the "Critical Incident Bureau" within DPS by June 2025.
-All Arizona law enforcement agencies would be required to request an independent review of police shootings, including the discharge of a weapon, and any other use of deadly force by the DPS bureau, an outside agency or a regional task force.
-Police chiefs or sheriffs could request that the bureau investigate a criminal misconduct allegation against an officer.
-The DPS critical incident unit would be staffed entirely by law enforcement professionals.
Bill relied on Arizona Opinion Survey
The legislation's supporters said they relied on a survey of Arizonans' opinions of police late last year, done by the Morrison Institute at Arizona State University.
When asked "How much confidence would you have in the following agencies to investigate a shooting by a police officer?," Here's how respondents rated the four choices:
-57% said "A task force made up of investigators from several police departments."
-53% supported an independent state agency.
-47% said "Another Arizona-based police department."
-36% wanted the officer's own police department to handle the task.
When rating overall trust in law enforcement, the survey found most respondents - 60% -trusted the police.
But African American and Hispanic respondents had lower levels of trust: 31 percent of African American respondents and 48 percent of Hispanics said they trusted the police.
No place for civilian review
The new bill mandating independent investigations doesn't create a place for civilian review.
"When we say 'independent,' we were specifically talking about getting the community involved," said Angelo Booker, a member of Penzone's African-American Advisory Council.
"We're hoping to put pressure on them to allow us to... (give) citizens an opportunity to look at the case."
Police organizations that support the bill have opposed civilian participation on reviews of police shootings.
During last year's legislative session, the Republican-controlled Legislature attempted to undermine Phoenix's new Office of Accountability and Transparency, the city's first independent police watchdog.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed the bill into law, but the legislation was later thrown out by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Phoenix's Oversight Office unaffected
Phoenix residents pushed for civilian oversight of police for more than a decade, before OAT was created last year. Phoenix was the largest city in the country that didn't have civilian oversight.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said the city's new police oversight office wouldn't be affected by the legislation. "Not at all," she said.
A spokeswoman for Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego agreed.
"The way the bill is currently written, it does not appear to conflict with OAT," said Jeanine L'Ecuyer, Gallego's communications director.
"But, as you know, bills can change quite a bit during the course of the session. We will continue to watch with interest."
Democratic leader had similar bills
The new bill comes after similar proposals from Democratic Leader Reginald Bolding failed to advance over several legislative sessions. Bolding said he’s happy to see the new proposal, which is actually more expansive than the one he proposed last year, but concerned the delays were political.
“The key aspect of the proposal has to be reform and (to) rebuild and restore community trust,” Bolding said. “I would hate to think just because a Democrat’s name was on the bill that the Legislature chose to not move it forward, even though it was a good idea. But it seems like that could be the case, looking at House Bill 2650.”
Bowers credited Penzone with bringing the bill to fruition over the last year.
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