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Phoenix police chief Jeri Williams responds to New York Times article

Posted at 6:52 PM, Dec 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-12 21:59:39-05

The Phoenix police chief has responded after a New York Times article about the department's 41 officer-involved shootings so far this year was published Monday.

The article, which features interviews with activists and others representing some of the people shot and killed by police this year, is headlined, "How Phoenix Explains a Rise in Police Violence: It’s the Civilians’ Fault."

That's where Chief Jeri Williams' criticism of the article begins.

"[T]he headline implies that we have already made up our minds as to an explanation for the rise in violent encounters. We cannot explain the rise," the chief wrote in a post on the neighborhood website Nextdoor posted Tuesday afternoon. Police earlier in the day had declined to comment to ABC15 when asked for a response to the Times article.

Earlier this year, police said the number of assaults committed against Phoenix officers was up 45% compared to the previous year, though officials stopped short of drawing a direct correlation between that increase and the increase in officer-involved shootings. As the Times article mentioned, all assaults against officers are automatically classified as aggravated, and no physical contact needs to occur to meet the state statute.

"[I]intentionally giving someone 'reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury' is enough," the New York Times wrote.

The Times article pointed out that the overall violent crime rate in Phoenix is close to that of other large cities across the country, according to 2017 data the department reported to the FBI.

The city and department have commissioned a $150,000 study through the National Police Foundation hoping to explain the sharp rise in police shootings. Last week, police said the study could be finished by the end of the year.

"Know that I am deeply concerned about the officer-involved shootings that have taken place involving our officers and throughout our county. There are no easy answers to explain what has happened across our Valley this year. This is not the norm," Chief Williams said.

Williams spoke with ABC15 regarding the report Wednesday.

"Each and every day the men and women put on this uniform and go out. They never know what they're going to face. They do it with professionalism, we do it with great accuracy, and we do it with courtesy."

Williams said her department continues to work on de-escalation tactics and crisis intervention.

"A number of individuals we've come in contact with have had some mental illness issues. We're continuing to engage, continuing to improve, continuing to work de-escalation tactics," Williams said.