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Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams to retire this summer, department says

Posted: 9:39 AM, May 03, 2022
Updated: 2022-05-03 23:01:27-04
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PHOENIX — Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams plans to retire this summer, according to the department.

“After much prayer and consideration and in consultation with my family and city leadership, I have decided to make a change,” Jeri Williams said, according to the department, on Twitter Tuesday morning. “There is never a perfect time to transition but the time feels right for me now to step aside. Just like when I felt called to do this job, I also feel called right now to go in a new direction, allowing me the rare opportunity to prioritize family and explore future endeavors.”

Williams was appointed as the department's police chief in 2016.

She has 33 years in law enforcement under her belt after starting her career with the Phoenix Police Department in 1989.

"She’s moved the police department forward, and now it is our challenge to find a leader who can continue the legacy and growth and evolution of this department," said Phoenix City Manager Jeff Barton.

As his attention shifted to her successor, Barton reflected on the progress during Williams' tenure.

"Getting out body camera footage within 14 days, less lethal, having every officer outfitted with body cameras. I think she’s done a lot of things to engage the community and be the face of the department," he said.

There have been scandals and controversy though, and Williams leaves her department under a rare, and probing DOJ investigation.

"I’m looking for someone to help us navigate these next to 18 months, or whatever it takes for us to get through DOJ," said Barton.

Barton says the interim chief who replaces Williams will be external and will not be promoted from within the department. But he clarified, that is only for the 'interim' position, and later encouraged all current Phoenix PD employees interested in the job to apply down the line.

There was speculation from some that Williams was pressured into retirement. Barton said that was not the case.

"This was a personal choice," he said.

City Councilman Sal DiCiccio also noted Tuesday that Williams is likely not packing up her office for months.

"[The Chief] made it very clear to me... 'I am not going to leave this police department hanging out there. I'll stay around as long as I am needed,'" said DiCiccio, recounting his alleged conversation with the chief.

Barton estimated the interim search will take "60 to 90 days."

"There’s never a good time to replace someone, especially with a department that has so many issues," said Councilman Carlos Garcia. "I think what we need to look forward to now is making sure we get through the DOJ investigation - and address all the transparency and accountability issues we’ve seen."

Aside from saying her retirement will happen "this summer," details of exactly when were not immediately available.

Williams has come under scrutiny as part of ABC15's "Politically Charged" investigative series, which uncovered protest arrests and prosecutions by Phoenix Police and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

Watch ABC15's original Politically Charged investigative report in the player below.

Politically Charged: Officials create ‘fictional’ gang to punish Phoenix protesters

In April, a collection of recorded conversations showed Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams’ top aides privately stated that she misled the city council and public in the wake of the ABC15 investigation that exposed how police and prosecutors falsely charged protesters as gang members.

Chief Williams presented some department reforms in August 2021 following the investigations into protest cases and the infamous challenge coin.

"I had a personnel and systems failure, especially at the patrol level," Williams said, during the Phoenix City Council meeting.

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association issued a statement in response to Williams' retirement announcement: "On behalf of the men and women of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, we thank Chief Jeri Williams for her commitment and service to the Phoenix Police Department. As a 33-year law enforcement veteran, Chief Williams has devoted her life to protecting our community. We wish her the best in her upcoming retirement and look forward to working with city leadership during this transition."

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego released a statement:

“Chief Williams has made a personal decision to prioritize her life and family, and I support her.

This is a critical time for the Phoenix Police Department. Over the coming months, we will choose an interim leader, and later, a new chief. During that transition time, my top priority will continue to be to ensure our police officers have the tools, resources, and leadership they need to keep this community safe.

I applaud Chief Williams for her accomplishments, and for her leadership. Together, we made important investments, from modernizing training to deploying body cameras. I thank the Chief for her partnership with me and for her commitment to excellence.”

Williams' retirement shows “what people power can do,” said Bruce Franks Jr., who is suing the City of Phoenix over his August 2020 protest arrest. Franks said he was specifically targeted and falsely charged because he was a leader of the march that day.

Franks has worked with Mass Liberation AZ to pressure the government leaders to hold Williams responsible for the alleged civil rights violations of her officers.

He says Williams’ retirement is not the end of the effort, and he said Mass Liberation AZ also wants to see Mayor Kate Gallego out of a job.

“[Gallego is] quick to come out and say, ‘I’m not going to defund the police. I’m going to stand by the police department. I’m going to stand by Jeri Williams. I’m going to do all these things without holding her accountable.’”

The Fraternal Order of Police issues a statement saying this is an opportunity for improvement. Noting a "surge in violent incidents" and staffing challenges "decimating entire investigative units," said Lou Manganiello, President of Fraternal Order of Police Phoenix Lodge 2. “The men and women on the frontlines deserve more support and resources."

“I think overall she's done a phenomenal job,” said Michael Kelly, a former city of Phoenix mayoral policy advisor who has known Williams for decades.

Kelly notes reforms during Williams’ tenure. That includes creating the Office of Accountability and Transparency to handle police complaints and the Community Assistance Program that will send social workers in vans, instead of officers, to help people in a mental health crisis.

He said Williams also has a role in history as Phoenix’s first Black female police chief.

“I think Jeri Williams has increased the focus and attention on diversity and inclusion in the police department,” Kelly said.

Read the full retirement statement from Chief Williams below:

"In October of 2016, I accepted the opportunity to become the Phoenix Police Chief. I was honored, humbled, and blessed when I was selected from a large field of worthy and qualified candidates. I still feel that way today. In some ways, I still feel like I'm just a kid from west Phoenix who was blessed to grow up and play in the major leagues in my own backyard.

Now, a few months away from completing my 6th year as Chief, it is time to look to the future. After much prayer and consideration and in consultation with my family and city leadership, I have decided to make a change. There is never a perfect time to transition but the time feels right for me now to step aside. Just like when I felt called to do this job, I also feel called right now to go in a new direction, allowing me the rare opportunity to prioritize family and explore future endeavors.

When I was hired, I shared with the community that one of my mantras was “To whom much is given, much is required." It means we must be responsible for all that we have. And that includes our beginnings and our endings and living not by circumstance but by choice.

As I make this choice to transition professionally, I am proud to have paved the way for this department to move forward in a positive manner while at the same time opening the door for the next Chief to enter. I hope they will enjoy the journey as much as I have while they lead the department through the next chapter in its history.

As I look back over my years as Phoenix Police Officer and Chief of Police, I am tremendously proud of several accomplishments. While that list is long, here are a few that stand out:

  • Body Worn Cameras for our officers and the community
  • Documenting every time an officer points a weapon at someone
  • Implementing less lethal response to encounters which has prevented some officer-involved shootings
  • Obtaining a new records management system
  • Something as simple as getting cell phones for officers 
  • Standard processes like updating policies and procedures to mirror the changing expectations and demands of the community
  • Being transparent by showing the public Critical Incident Videos in 14-days or less 
  • Becoming fully compliant with #8CAN'TWAIT
  • And relationships: Through all the highs and lows (and there have been many!) I am proud of the relationships we've built and maintained with our community, employees and both legal and law enforcement peers throughout the county, state and country.

I hope you can understand why these accomplishments are special to me. However, when all is said and done, the most rewarding work of all has been the honor and privilege to serve as the leader of the most amazing group of men and women, sworn and non-sworn, in all of law enforcement. So many of them have demonstrated integrity and courage with a job that has changed considerably and a work environment that is filled with challenging personal and political dynamics. So many of these folks, these cops, dispatchers, crime lab employees and many others still find the way to answer the call, do good police work and be transparent, trustworthy and accountable to each other and the community.

I am grateful to our city leaders, including Mayor and Council and City management, who have supported me and our department these last several years. Thank you for trusting me with confidence to keep our city safe.

A personal note of gratitude for my three men: Cody, Alan and Big Cody. I am blessed by them and eternally grateful to have their love and support.

So what's next? My last day will be sometime this summer. I know there is going to be speculation and questions about where I am going and what I'm going to do next. All of that comes later. For the time being, there is nothing more important to me than working with City management as we develop a transition plan.

Finally, here's what I want you to know: I've been a cop for 33 years. I still feel extremely proud and honored to put a badge and uniform on every day as a symbol of the oath I took in 1989 to serve and protect our community. It has been my extreme honor to serve this city and department as your Phoenix Police Chief.

Thank you and God Bless -

Chief Jeri Williams"