PHOENIX — U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced Thursday that the Justice Department has opened a "pattern or practice" investigation into the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department for its use-of-force practices.
Officials, including Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, were quick to respond to the news.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego:
“I welcome the U.S. Department of Justice review of the Phoenix Police Department. Comprehensive reform of policing in the City of Phoenix has been my priority since the first day I took office. The recommendations that will result from this review will assist us in our ongoing efforts to become an even safer, stronger, more equitable city. Along with the City Manager, and Chief of Police, I stand ready to support the USDOJ throughout this review process.
Public safety reform is an ongoing process in Phoenix, and now, with the help of the USDOJ, this robust reform program will continue. We have implemented many reforms since 2019 but recognize there is much more work to do. With the approval of the FY 2021-22 budget, we have undertaken one of the largest investments in public safety reforms in the city’s history, including the massively expanded Community Assistance Program (CAP). CAP fundamentally changes our response to mental and behavioral health calls for service by placing trained mental health professionals in the field. By using the right professionals for the right situations, we improve outcomes and release police officers from handling work they were never trained to do.
For the first time in city history, we will now have an Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (OAT). OAT will independently investigate allegations involving police while also creating greater transparency and accountability within the Phoenix Police Department.
I thank the residents of Phoenix for being strong advocates and raising their voices during a time of great change. As your Mayor, and along with members of the Phoenix City Council, I pledge to continue this work to achieve the best possible outcomes.”
Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia:
My office and I applaud the decision by the DOJ to investigate the Phoenix Police Department. pic.twitter.com/QfnhQrvCxE— Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia - District 8 (@PhxDistrict8) August 5, 2021
Phoenix Law Enforcement Association President Michael "Britt" London:
"The top priority of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association is to maintain a high standard of community policing, and promote ethical policies that protect police officers and our community. We are confident in the work of the Phoenix Police Department and our officers on the street, and we will fully cooperate with the Department of Justice investigation."
Attorney General Merrick Garland:
“When we conduct pattern or practice investigations to determine whether the Constitution or federal law has been violated, our aim is to promote transparency and accountability. This increases public trust, which in turn increases public safety. We know that law enforcement shares these goals.”
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke:
“One of the highest priorities of the Civil Rights Division is to ensure that every person in this country benefits from policing that is lawful, effective, transparent, and free from discrimination. Police officers across the country must use their authority in a manner that adheres to the Constitution, complies with federal civil rights laws and respects human dignity.”
Victoria Lopez, Advocacy and Legal Director for the ACLU of Arizona:
“We welcome the Department of Justice’s decision to initiate a pattern and practice investigation of the Phoenix Police Department and look forward to working with them and local community groups to move this investigation forward in a constructive and meaningful way.
There is a clear need for fundamental change in the agency and that starts with robust oversight and accountability. For years, local advocates and residents have been demanding an overhaul in the Department to keep Phoenicians safe from police abuse; their experiences and voices should be at the front of this investigation. In 2016, the ACLU of Arizona brought litigation against Phoenix PD to address its use of force against protestors engaging in protected First Amendment activity. In addition to lawsuits, of which ours is only one of several, community complaints and media reports point to numerous allegations of police misconduct, harassment, and excessive use force, all of which has eroded trust between the community and the Phoenix PD. This is not a case of a few bad apples – Phoenix PD has deep-rooted, systemic problems with the way it treats community members. It’s time for this to change.”
Katie Baeza, the sister of Ryan Whitaker, who was shot and killed by Phoenix PD.
Baeza spoke to ABC15 about the DOJ announcement Thursday and said, “The DOJ investigation brings hope they’ll uncover enough to save lives and that’s a start, we can’t get Ryan back but if we can be part of the process that saves other lives and saves other families from going through what we’ve gone through, that’s something."
Ben Laughlin, Poder in Action, partial statement:
For decades Phoenix Police has been one of the most violent departments in the country. Community members have endured police injury and killing of loved ones, sexual violence, lies that led to incarceration, surveillance and threats for protesting, officers who rarely get fired, and a massive police budget that’s prevented investment in desperately needed resources in our neighborhoods. It’s extremely important, and validating, that much of this is finally being recognized on a national level.
With that said, Department of Justice investigations into police departments have a long history of being extremely costly to taxpayers, while increasing funding to police departments, recycling ineffective police reforms, and failing to end the killing of Black, Brown, Indigenous, poor, disabled, unsheltered and LGBTQ+ people. It is essential that the DOJ investigation include an assessment of the root causes of police interactions with the community and focus recommendations on investment for community programs that address these root causes and not continue to pour millions into “solutions” that have been proven failures.
Arizona Representative Ruben Gallego:
“The need for close examination of policing policies, police behavior and police reform in communities across the nation has never been more clear than in the last several years.
Public safety starts with trust and we have seen repeatedly what happens when systemic racism and institutional injustice erode trust between communities of color and law enforcement. The City of Phoenix has made some important improvements. We know there is always more work to do, which is why the House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act earlier this year.
I have confidence that Attorney General Merrick Garland’s review of the Phoenix Police Department and the City of Phoenix will be thorough, transparent and rooted in a commitment to improve public safety for all communities, including communities of color."