PHOENIX — The first director of Phoenix's Office of Accountability and Transparency, which will investigate police misconduct, told ABC15 about his plans to build trust and bring changes.
Roger Smith was hired in December after years of debate, a record number of police shootings, and the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights investigation into Phoenix police.
Incidents like Monday's violent altercation between an officer and a 13-year-old girl are the kind of cases that could be reviewed by OAT, but the new director says the office won't be fully operational for six to eight months.
"Right now I’m a staff of one," Smith said.
ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius asked Smith how he plans to get the community to trust OAT enough to share information.
"The big thing they have to believe and understand is that we are not the police; I am not the police," Smith said. Smith said he earned a law degree and has spent most of his career in civilian oversight of police.
Smith says OAT staff can investigate complaints of police misconduct or uses of force either separately from or in tandem with Phoenix's Professional Standards Bureau. OAT investigators would present findings during meetings with a Civilian Review Board. The board could make policy or disciplinary recommendations.
"All OAT's recommendations and the board's decisions are gonna be public," Smith said. When ABC15 asked how much information would be provided about the cases, such as the officers' names, Smith replied, "Exactly what gets included in the decision - that’s all being worked out now."
Phoenix's police chief would still ultimately make decisions on officer discipline.
"The chief's not going be the only audience of the information," Roger said. "I think the stage will be set for an objective evaluation of the information we present."
As ABC15 wrapped up the interview, ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius asked Smith whether anyone can hold a police agency accountable when it takes a year to obtain police records and even longer for some internal investigations to be completed.
"You have to fight for that, and so will I," Smith replied.