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Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams: Assaults against officers up 45% this year

Posted at 6:41 PM, Aug 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-09 11:05:35-04

It's a disturbing trend in the Valley.

As the number of officer-involved shootings hits the number 60, with 32 of the incidents in the city of Phoenix, the Valley's largest police department is reporting startling numbers that show another side of this problem.

In a memo to the community by Phoenix police chief Jeri Williams, she said there has been a 45% increase in the number of assaults against Phoenix officers, with one out of ten of those assaults involving a firearm.

Chief Williams said the officer-involved shootings don't follow a trend based on location, intersection or neighborhood and have happened throughout the city.

"It has been a priority to determine why we have a stark increase from previous years. We've been reviewing each incident and running data," Williams said.

RELATED: Phoenix approves $150,000studyof officer-involved shootings

"We expect our officers to show respect to those we serve and we've trained them on de-escalation tactics, Williams said. "While I cannot account for the reasons why some members of our community take active aggression against officers, I can encourage and create opportunities for additional training. The safety of our community and officers is the foundation of this Department." 

Advocates who have been raising concerns about police use of force say the tone of this memo simply blames the community for the problem while agreeing the numbers were startling.

Viri Hernandez, president of the activist group Poder in Action, says many people have told her they are now afraid to call 911. They are afraid to report domestic violence issues or call police if a family member is acting unstable, as they fear their loved one will be shot and killed.

"We are calling for help and we are being received by violence and by gunfire. It's alarming, devastating and it puts me in a scared mode actually," said Hernandez. "The tone of the memo is dismissive of what is happening in the community. Reading through her statement it was clear to me that there was no room for collaboration or partnership to address the issue because the police department is taking a tone saying 'it's actually not our problem,' they are blaming the victim for the reason they got hit, got killed, or got shot. They're saying it was your fault."

Ken Crane, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association which represents about 2500 men and women in the department, agreed the numbers were concerning.

"I think it's alarming and troubling for a lot of our experienced street-level officers. They are saying we haven't seen anything like it," said Crane.

He said there was no 'one-size-fits-all' answer to this problem. Crane says the ongoing Phoenix police staffing shortage, immigration, increase in the number of homeless people, and those under the influence of substances that can produce erratic or violent behavior all likely contribute to the increase in shootings by police officers.

He added that the only way to end every police encounter safely was the simplest thing you could do.

"It's amazingly simple, if you're dealing with police, you have any type of police contact, if they pull you over, the key is compliance. Even if you don't agree with them, or are taken into custody, just comply. You will see a judge within 24 hours and can argue your case then," said Crane.

Chief Williams urged those concerned about the issue to get involved by participating in the department's citizen police academy, a six-week course where members of the public learn the basics of policing. Those interested can apply here.