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Phoenix Police Have a Pattern of Violating Civil Rights Using Excessive Force: DOJ

PHOENIX (AP) — Phoenix police discriminate against Black, Hispanic and Native American people, unlawfully detain homeless people and use excessive force, including unjustified deadly force, according to an in-depth federal civil rights investigation into law enforcement in the nation’s fifth-largest city .

The U.S. Department of Justice report released Thursday says investigators found wide racial disparities in how Phoenix Police Department officers enforce certain laws, including low-level drug and traffic violations. Researchers found that Phoenix officers shoot at people who do not pose an immediate threat, fire their weapons after any threat has been eliminated and routinely delay medical care for people injured during encounters with officers.

The report does not say whether the federal government is pursuing a court-ordered reform plan known as a consent decree — an often costly and lengthy process — but a Justice Department official told reporters that in similar cases that method has been used to pass reforms to feed. .

Interim Phoenix Police Chief Michael Sullivan said in a statement that they need time to thoroughly review the findings before considering any next steps. A top police union official, meanwhile, called the Justice Department investigation a “farce” and warned that a consent decree would damage officers’ morale.

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Darrell Kriplean, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which represents approximately 2,200 Phoenix officers, answers a question following the release of a Department of Justice report on the Phoenix Police Department during a press conference on Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Phoenix. The Justice Department said Phoenix police discriminate against Black, Hispanic and Native American people, unlawfully detain homeless people and use excessive force, including unjustified deadly force. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“The Department of Justice is not interested in improving local police departments and the communities they serve,” said Darrell Kriplean, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which represents about 2,200 officers. “This action shows that they are only interested in taking away control of local police from the communities they serve through consent decrees.

Attorney General Merrick Garland called the report “an important step toward accountability and transparency.” He said in an email that it underscores the department’s commitment to “meaningful reforms that protect the civil rights and safety of Phoenix residents and strengthen trust between law enforcement and the community.”

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said in a statement that city officials would meet on June 25 to seek legal advice and discuss next steps.

“I will review the findings carefully and thoroughly before commenting further,” Gallego said.

The Justice Department said officers in Phoenix enforce certain laws — such as low-level drug and traffic violations, loitering and trespassing — more heavily against Black, Hispanic and Native American people than against white people who engage in the same behavior.

Black people in the city are more than 3.5 times more likely than white people to be cited or arrested for failing to signal before turning, for example, the report said. Hispanic drivers are more than 50% more likely than white drivers to be cited or arrested for speeding near cameras in school zones. And Native American people are more than 44 times more likely than white people – per capita – to be cited or arrested for possessing and consuming alcohol.

Officers investigating drug-related crimes were also 27% more likely to release white people in 30 minutes or less, but Native Americans accused of the same crime were held longer, the department said. And Native Americans were 14% more likely to be charged with trespassing, while officers cited or released white people accused of the same crime.

There is “overwhelming statistical evidence” that the disparities are due to discrimination, the Justice Department said.

According to the US Census Bureau, Phoenix has a population of 1.6 million. Race and ethnicity figures show that 2% of the population is Native American, 7% is black, nearly 43% is Hispanic, and 41% is non-Hispanic white.

Of the more than 2,500 officers who work for the Phoenix Police Department, 68% are white, 21% are Hispanic and 4% are black.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, criticized Phoenix for “over-policing” homeless people, including arrests without reasonable suspicion of a crime. More than a third of arrests and citations by Phoenix police involved homeless people, the report said. The DOJ investigation began in August 2021.

Litigation is an option if the Justice Department’s efforts to obtain a consent decree are unsuccessful.

“We remain very hopeful that we can build on the track record of success we have had in other jurisdictions across our country and implement a consent decree that contains the strong medicine needed to address the serious violations,” Clarke said.

Similar DOJ investigations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Baltimore and elsewhere have revealed systemic problems related to excessive force and civil rights violations, some of which resulted in costly consent decrees that have persisted for years.

In Phoenix, a 2020 case in which fifteen protesters were accused of being part of an anti-police gang was dismissed because there was no credible evidence; in 2017, a “challenge coin” circulated among officers depicting a protester in a gas mask being shot in the groin with a projectile; and in June 2019, cellphone video surfaced showing officers pointing guns as they confronted an unarmed black couple with two small children they suspected of shoplifting.

Poder In Action, a Phoenix-based group that advocates for people of color and workers, said the findings were not a surprise.

“We never needed a DOJ investigation to tell us this,” the group said in a statement. “The data and residents’ stories have been telling us this for years.”

The report states that some police shootings occurred because of officers’ “reckless tactics,” and that police “unreasonably delay” rendering aid to people they shot and use force against those who are unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.

In one case, police waited more than nine minutes to render aid to a woman who had been shot 10 times by officers, the Justice Department said. The woman died.

The investigation focused on the city’s 911 operations. Although Phoenix has invested $15 million to send non-police responders to mental health calls, the city has not provided 911 call takers and dispatchers with the necessary training.

Officers assume people with disabilities are dangerous and resort to violence instead of de-escalation tactics, leading to violence and criminal consequences for people with behavioral health conditions instead of providing them with care, the Department of Health said. Justice.

City Manager Jeff Barton said in a message to city employees late Thursday: “We take all allegations seriously and intend to review this lengthy report with an open mind.”

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Associated Press reporters Rio Yamat in Las Vegas; Anita Snow in Phoenix; and Alanna Durkin Richer Washington, DC, contributed to this story.