PHOENIX - It's been four months since Phoenix police pledged to make changes following a record year for police shootings.
The months since have been plagued with controversy, including a viral video of a police stop and reports of officers' racist Facebook posts. But city and police officials say they are still delivering on their commitment to implement the National Police Foundation's recommendations.
The city ordered the $150,000 National Police Foundation study after Phoenix police were involved in 44 police shootings in 2018, more than any other city in the nation.
Police shootings are down significantly in the first half of 2018. Phoenix officers have been involved in nine shootings through July 16 — a 70% drop from the 30 shootings during the same time period in 2018.
On Monday, Chief Jeri Williams provided an update on a number of programs spurred by the Foundation's recommendations.
"We took the bull by the horns and we really jumped all in with our community to show our transparency, to show our accountability — to show the fact that we are a part of the community," Williams said.
Williams and Mayor Kate Gallego announced that:
- More than 1,700 officers have received body cameras.
- The department has implemented a new policy requiring officers to document each time an officer points a gun at a person.
- All patrol officers will undergo an eight-hour training program to teach them how to better assist individuals in the midst of a mental health crisis.
"We believe this is an important step for accountability and transparency," Gallego said.
Monday marked the first day of a new policy requiring all officers to document any time an officer points a firearm at a person.
"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.
Firearms Sgt. Vernon Brink said an officer may point a weapon at a person during a number of police activities, including serving a search warrant, searching a building or during a felony traffic stop.
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Simply removing the weapon from its holster or keeping it trained on the ground will not be counted. The firearm will need to be pointed at a person to mandate being logged, Brink said.
Officers will be responsible for logging any occurrences when completing an incident report. A supervisor can then review the body camera footage.
It's not clear how frequently the data will be studied or whether it will be used in prevention efforts.
Body cameras ahead of schedule
Phoenix was the largest city in the nation that didn't have body cameras for most of its patrol officers.
All patrol officers, the crisis-intervention team and the community-response squads have now received body cameras.
Traffic, neighborhood-enforcement teams, community-action officers, downtown-operations unit and SWAT will receive body-worn cameras in the next phase, which is set to be completed later this year.
The rollout of these cameras is ahead of schedule, according to Williams.
Phoenix police initially pledged to have the department outfitted with body cameras by the end of this year, but implementation was expedited after a controversial cellphone video showed Phoenix police officers pointing guns and yelling threats at a black man, his pregnant fiancee, and their two young daughters after the family said their 4-year-old took a doll from a Family Dollar store.
None of the officers in that incident was wearing a body camera.
Officials also announced that Phoenix police will partner with the mental-health treatment center La Frontera Arizona to provide all patrol officers with eight hours of "mental health first aid."
"We've learned that both our community and police officers agree that this change is needed and necessary," Williams said.
Williams said her team has been examining different response models in use by other departments both locally and across the country to identify the best options for Phoenix.
Previously, officers would undergo basic crisis-intervention training at the police academy. They could then choose to participate in an optional 40-hour crisis course, which Erica Chestnut-Ramirez, director of crisis and trauma healing services for La Frontera Arizona, hailed as the "gold standard." She estimated that only about 20% of Phoenix patrol officers complete the in-depth training.
Chestnut-Ramirez said the new training would help bridge the gap and provide all officers with the necessary training.
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During the training, the officers will learn how to identify whether a mental illness or something else is causing the crisis, as well as learn de-escalation techniques.
"We want them to be able to identify when someone is in crisis and having a bad day and how to help them get to the resources they need," Chestnut-Ramirez said.
All recruits who joined the department this year have already completed the training. The remaining patrol officers will have 24 months to complete it.
More recommendations in the works
A newly appointed ad hoc committee, composed of representatives from the city and county, will meet next week to review additional recommendations generated during recent community listening sessions.
"We're looking forward to finding more ways to improve community trust and collaboration," Gallego said.
The council voted in July to implement an early-intervention system that would ideally identify officers who may be at risk of breaking protocol before the infraction occurs. They're awaiting cost estimates before voting on whether to actually purchase a system later this year.
According to a city staff report, Phoenix will seek a system that will allow the Police Department to "store and view all officer performance data in one place," including records related to use-of-force incidents, internal affairs investigations, training performance, evaluations, community engagement and officer profile.
They're also considering a civilian review board and public survey of the community to better understand its perceptions of law enforcement and identify areas of concerns.
Relations still tense in Phoenix
Phoenix police have faced intense scrutiny in the months following the release of the National Police Foundation study.
An analysis of Facebook posts by officers nationwide revealed that 75 current Phoenix police officers and 22 retired officers posted racist or inflammatory commentary. Williams quickly pulled some of the officers from enforcement assignments and some of the officers are under investigation internally.
Then, the controversial video showing officers pointing guns at the Phoenix couple and their children went viral.
Officers disputed the narrative, citing a 16-page police report that contends the couple took other items from the store, including underwear.
Police said the adults were combative and refused to follow officers' commands during the stop. At one point, officers reported, they thought the man — Dravon Ames — was reaching for a weapon.
Ames didn't have a weapon.
Phoenix officials hosted a community meeting to allow residents to share their fears and frustrations with the Police Department. Thousands attended.
Phoenix police also asked the U.S. Department of Justice for help in rebuilding community relationships. The agency has hosted community meetings to gather input.
Follow Bree Burkitt on Twitter: @breeburkitt.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix police must now self-report whenever they point a gun at someone