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One year after George Floyd and Dion Johnson died, changes to Valley policing

Valley protest
Posted at 6:46 PM, May 25, 2021

PHOENIX — One year after the deaths of George Floyd and Dion Johnson, many Americans and Arizonans are reflecting on the past year and the calls for police reform.

While change is usually slow and incremental, the past 365 days saw a number of policy changes and new accountability measures put in place by Valley agencies.

"Law enforcement has had to pivot, and I think pivot in a very good way," said Kevin Robinson, who retired as an Assistant Chief with Phoenix PD and now serves on the AZPOST board.

The change did not happen overnight or by accident.

It came about due to rising community outrage and months of protesting.

"I think the changes would have happened without these tragedies that have occurred in the last year, but it would have been very slow, very slow," said Robinson.

Multiple Valley departments updated their use-of-force policies and put a greater emphasis on training, but likely none more than Phoenix PD.

The City of Phoenix created a Civilian Review Board as part of their Office of Accountability and Transparency.

Some local civil rights activists have pushed for the new civilian review, as well as the proposals similar to the Community Advocacy Program, which would send counselors instead of cops to 911 calls involving mental or behavioral health issues. Although, they don't see eye-to-eye with city officials on all the details.

"You can't heal with the hammer," said Jacob Raiford with the W.E. Rising Project. "We do need a department that would take a substantial amount of these calls and responsibilities away from what is, at this point in 2021, a paramilitary force."

"Our city keeps putting more and more money into policing as if policing our social problems is going to get to the root of all of them and solve them," said Mimi Arrayaa from Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro. "Policing homelessness is not going to stop people from sleeping on the streets."

Black Lives Matter proposed abolishing the police, defunding departments, and using the money to offer better social services. Their members believe in alternative methods of public safety.

Since Floyd's death, Phoenix's department has made officer policy changes. It is mandatory to render aid to people in need, as well as intervene if a fellow officer is violating policy.

In December of 2020, the Phoenix Police Department also "achieved compliance" with the '8 Can't Wait' campaign, aimed at reducing police violence:

Ban chokeholds
Require de-escalation
Require warning before shooting
Require exhausting all alternatives before shooting
Duty to Intervene
Ban shooting at moving vehicles
Require us of force continuum
Require comprehensive reporting
Center for Continuous Improvement-Unit which reviews policies and procedures to ensure best practices

So far in 2021, the department tells ABC15 they have banned baton use and changed their 'foot pursuit policy.'

Other agencies have enacted similar changes.

The Mesa Police Department also says it is compliant with the '8 Can't Wait' reforms and Tempe's police department also strengthened its duty to intervene and render aid.

There has also been an increased focus by most law enforcement agencies to practice de-escalation and use force only when necessary.

Chokeholds, or neck restraints, have been banned by Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert.

Some departments though, still allow the practice in certain situations.

"No question that what's transpired in the last year is certainly accelerated the discussion and the change. But obviously, there is still more discussion to be had," said Joe Clure, President of the Arizona Police Association.

Clure said one area where he wants to see more change, has to do with collaboration.

"I think we need more joint discussions between law enforcement, between community leaders, between elected leaders. That seems to be the missing component in a lot of all of this," said Clure.

In July 2020, Phoenix Chief Jeri Williams also recognized the importance of working with the community. It is unclear how often she has met with activists or community leaders.

"We can only do this working with our community members, and having our community members ask the hard questions and force us into the process of fully drilling down and looking at our policies, procedures, and practices," Williams said in July. "At the end of the day, change is never easy. It’s rough, and hurts."

While the change is welcomed by many who have called for it, some are still skeptical that real change has occurred.

"There are segments of the community who aren't necessarily going to believe that - and in a lot of cases, they are justified in feeling that way," said Kevin Robinson. "The proof will be in the pudding."