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Bill requiring third-party review of deadly police incidents stalls

Posted at 6:40 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-11 21:44:17-05

PHOENIX — A bill that would require law enforcement agencies to turn over deadly use-of-force cases for outside investigation appears to have stalled and died amid resistance from a key lawmaker and some police leaders.

Speaker Rusty Bowers signaled that he plans to effectively kill House Bill 2765 by not scheduling a full vote in the House of Representatives.

HB2765 is just two paragraphs and would make agencies in Maricopa and Pima counties turn over deadly police encounters to another agency for investigation.

Rep. Reginald Bolding has introduced similar versions of the bill multiple times in past years.

This was the first time it was heard in a committee, and it passed unanimously. Some Arizona police unions also supported the bill.

Just before the committee’s unanimous vote, Bolding predicted what would happen next: Certain law enforcement officials and other unions would work behind the scenes to stop it.

“I know who they’re going to call. I know the meetings they’re going to have. I know the attempt to try and kill this,” Bolding said. He later added, “to say that there should be a third-party investigation when someone’s life has been taken, that’s the minimum.”

Bowers didn't not agree to an interview to discuss why he stalled the bill. But the speaker sent ABC15 a statement that said he agrees with concerns raised by some law enforcement officials, which he didn’t name.

“They’re asking for time to develop a comprehensive proposal that includes workable protocols, timelines, preservation of evidence, securing of witness testimony, and methodology. I agree, and I look forward to working with all parties to see that it happens.”

Sheriff Paul Penzone was one the key law enforcement leaders lobbying Bowers against the bill.

Penzone did not testify when the bill was publicly heard before the Criminal Justice Reform Committee on February 17. But the sheriff confirmed he did speak with Bowers and met with him privately Tuesday night.

In a press conference held Wednesday, Penzone pushed back against questions about how he lobbied against the bill.

He also laid out the reason for his opposition to HB2765.

Penzone said police leaders weren’t involved enough in the bill’s drafting, and he said it doesn’t solve the problem.

The sheriff said this is a problem that law enforcement should fix itself so that they can re-earn the public’s trust.

Bolding’s bill was supported by major law enforcement officials and groups, including the Arizona Police Association and the Attorney General’s Office. The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association also agreed with the bill.

HB2765 would give police leaders more than a year and full control to set up the process and system to do it.

Penzone criticized ABC15’s repeated questions about how long the public should wait for his plan when this is a problem he admitted has existed for decades.

REPORTER: How long is this going to take for you guys to figure this out? Is it a year? Five years? A decade until we forget?

PENZONE: I don’t know what to say with your tone, Dave, because you try to be so confrontational for some reason. You think it makes for better journalism and it doesn’t. The truth of the matter is I don’t have a timeframe. As I said before, this has been a problem for 200 years, I told them my hope is that within 90 days I’ll have a template of what a working group would look like.

Bolding said he doesn’t believe that police leaders really want more time or input in the process.

“Some in law enforcement just don’t want legislation or law that would tell them what to do,” he said. “That’s just quite frankly what it boils down to.”

[Clarification: The broadcast version of this report stated the Gilbert police chief did not respond to an interview request. A spokesperson did call ABC15 and left a voicemail.]

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.