After a year in which the Phoenix police department led the nation in police shootings, terrorized a family at a dollar store in an incident that went viral, and became embroiled in a controversy surrounding racist Facebook posts, the City of Phoenix is taking measures to address its controversy-plagued police force.
The city has established a new rule requiring officers on patrol to wear body cameras and document every situation where they point their weapons at a person, Mayor Kate Gallego (D) and Police Chief Jeri Williams said at a news conference Monday.
“This will allow us to have a real idea of how many times our officers are able to successfully de-escalate a situation with the potential of deadly force,” Williams said of the measures.
Gallego said the city thinks the rules are “an important step for accountability and transparency.”
The attempts to “modernize” the department come after Phoenix led the nation in police shootings in 2018, with 44.
The department has also come under fire for other reasons; in May, police drew their guns on Dravon Ames, his pregnant fiancee, Iesha Harper, and their two young children, threatening to shoot them over a claim that one of the children took a doll from a dollar store.
A video of the incident was recorded by witnesses and went viral online, leading to widespread outrage and a $10 million lawsuit against the city.
That confrontation exacerbated already tense situation between the police department and its community.
Things only got worse in June, when a watchdog group known as the Plain View Project published a database that found racist, homophobic, violent or otherwise bigoted memes on the Facebook profiles of 97 current and former Phoenix police officers.
Williams called the posts “embarrassing and disturbing,” and said she took officers who made especially problematic posts off of their “enforcement assignments” and put them on desk duty.
Beyond the new rules, all officers will also be required to take an eight-hour course on how to handle citizens with mental health issues, addressing a long-standing and under-resourced problem.
The community group Poder In Action welcomed the reforms. “If implemented and enforced promptly within the department, these changes could be initial steps to reduce police violence,” the group said in a statement to KJZZ.
But Poder also called for additional changes to be made, saying the changes were “not sufficient” to address issues the community has been raising for years.