council members Council members Nowakowski (left) and Guadardo posing with the controversial shirt. Screenshot taken from City of Phoenix Public Video.

Councilmember Carlos Garcia finds opportunity to push a Civilian’s Review Board for police misconduct amidst controversy.

Two Phoenix City Council members are apologizing after community backlash over a video of the duo making fun of Councilmember Carlos Garcia’s police reform efforts.

In the video, uploaded to the city’s official YouTube channel, Councilmember Michael Nowakowski and Vice Mayor Betty Guardado visit Desert Sky Mall to find holiday gifts for their colleagues. The gags start innocently enough: building blocks for Councilmember Debra Stark, a crystal ball for Councilmember Laura Pastor, and a scented candle for Mayor Kate Gallego.

But when they begin their search for Garcia’s gift, the jokes start to get personal.

“Well, you know how he loves police,” Guardado says, referencing Garcia’s longstanding critiques of the Phoenix Police Department. Garcia, former executive director of immigration rights group Puente Arizona, won his election last March on a platform of comprehensive police reform

Garcia has been the subject of attack by the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) for his critique of police use of force and activism against Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 law that targets the Latino community. During his first official Council meeting, Garcia also wore a shirt with the words “End Police Brutality.”

“I got a crazy idea; let’s get him a shirt – ‘I love Phoenix P.D.,'” Nowakowski says in the video. The two proceed to find a pro-police shirt and pose with it, wishing Garcia a Merry Christmas.

Local activist group Poder in Action found the video several weeks after it published. The group issued a statement on Facebook to the Council members expressing their disappointment.

“You’ve heard the pain of mothers whose children have been killed, of kids who’ve been traumatized, and of women who have been sexually assaulted by Phoenix police,” the statement reads. “The pain of our community, and someone willing to speak on their behalf, is NOT a joke.”

Phoenix has been the subject of national scrutiny after a rise in officer-involved shootings since 2017, with a record 44 shootings in 2018 alone. Garcia represents District 8, which has a higher population of Black and Latino residents than any other district, and had the most officer-involved shootings in 2019 – and more than six of the eight other districts combined.

Guardado and Nowakowski, whose districts had the second and third-highest rates of officer-involved shootings in 2019, issued a joint apology on Monday, Fox 10 reported.

“We would like to issue an apology to the communities we serve,” they said. “Our attempt to be lighthearted regarding our friend and colleague was not well thought out.”

In response, Garcia’s office issued the following statement:

“The District 8 team continues to be committed to ensuring the Phoenix Police Department is accountable and transparent to the people of Phoenix. I hold no ill feelings towards Vice Mayor Guardado and Councilman Nowakowski for the video. My hope is that we can continue to work together and accomplish a Civilian Review Board along with other reform measures that prioritize the safety of all Phoenix residents. The community’s response to this video shows the urgency to make sure we get something done.”

Garcia and Guardado were both elected to the City Council in March, after former Mayor Greg Stanton and then-Councilmember Kate Gallego’s resignations to run for higher office resulted in two empty seats. Nowakowski has served since 2008.