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Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams explains reforms after protest cases, challenge coin investigations

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams
Posted at 6:35 PM, Aug 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-24 22:42:15-04

PHOENIX — "It flat-out was a bad idea." Phoenix's police chief used those words to describe her officers' decision to press-gang charges against police protesters.

Chief Jeri Williams spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday since she was suspended for a day, August 13, for failing to properly supervise the police department.

Williams addressed Phoenix City Council after council members listened to presentations on Ballard Spahr's outside investigations on the protest charges and a controversial challenge coin.

"I had a personnel and systems failure, especially at the patrol level," Williams said.

Earlier this year, the ABC15 Investigators exposed how police officers assigned to a protest in 2017 exchanged a challenge coin that mocked a protesters injury and had wording that mimicked hate speech.

ABC15's Politically Charged investigation also showed how Phoenix officers and county prosecutors hatched a plan to press gang charges against police protesters exercising their first amendment rights.

"Systems were bypassed, personnel matters were bypassed, communication was broken down," Williams said.

Dozens of criminal gang protest cases were eventually dismissed.

Williams said she demoted and replaced three assistant police chiefs. Thirteen other officers were reassigned and no longer serve on the Tactical Response Unit or the Downtown Operations Unit. She is also restructuring these units, rewriting policies, and added a second patrol chief.

"I’ve had very strict and stringent conversations with my new team and new staff about the expectations to absolutely - without fail - keep me informed of things that rise to a significant level of community interest, a significant level of council interest, a significant level of city management interest," Williams said.

No council member publicly admonished the chief. Some even praised her for her overall leadership.

Councilman Sal DiCiccio criticized the challenge coin investigation. He said the probe was a waste of money and time when the city should be addressing violent crime trends and police officer vacancies.

Mayor Kate Gallego urged Chief Williams to have all officers get training on hate speech from the Anti-Defamation League.

Several other council members questioned how to address ongoing concerns about Phoenix police culture, trustworthiness, and accountability.

"Trust is something that takes years to gain and a split second to lose," said City Manager Ed Zuercher. "I would not ask people to trust us 'just because,' I would ask people to have trust when it is earned and demonstrated."

Some Phoenix officers still face internal and/or criminal investigations for their roles in the protest cases and the challenge coin's distribution.

Got a news tip? Email ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius at Melissa.Blasius@abc15.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.