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Phoenix police spent $14M in overtime to man protests earlier this year

Posted at 7:17 PM, Dec 09, 2020

PHOENIX — In less than seven months, the Phoenix Police Department spent $14 million on overtime connected to protests earlier this summer and another $500,000 for equipment and supplies, according to a summary report provided to a City of Phoenix subcommittee.

The figures were released as part of a summary report the police department put together for the City Council Public Safety and Justice Subcommittee, which met on Wednesday.

"I didn't necessarily want to spend that much money on overtime, but I have a responsibility to protect and serve," Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams told members of the subcommittee.

Phoenix police said in the report that its officers responded and worked 285 protests since late May 2020. At 95% of those protests, officers did not make a single arrest, police said.

Most of the arrests happened during the first four days of protesting, where demonstrations sparked in downtown Phoenix, and across the country following the deaths of Dion Johnson in Phoenix and George Floyd in Minneapolis.

"During this four-day period, the Police Department arrested 354 subjects for various offenses, including rioting, unlawful assembly, aggravated assault, resisting arrest, obstructing a public thoroughfare, criminal damage, and curfew violations," said Chief Williams.

At all the protests after that, between June 15th and November 17th, roughly 60 arrests were made for similar offenses, she said.

As ABC15 has previously reported, the majority of the cases stemming from the arrested in May were essentially thrown out due to a "cut-and-paste" probable cause statement. Judges ruled the generic charging document did not meet the standard.

"We made mistakes," said Chief Williams. "The idea and decision to cut and paste, I’m sure, was determined for expedited purposes, and the fact that we had so many people who were arrested at any given time."

Throughout the nearly hour-long discussion, Councilmember Carlos Garcia, who was a prominent activist before his election, repeatedly questioned Chief Williams.

"How did you decide who to arrest?" asked Garcia. "Some people were pulled out of cars...some people couldn't get their property back...let's talk about the gang-related charges. How was the decision made to do copy-and-paste probable cause? Did you learn from that mistake? Were there any consequences?"

"We were learning on the fly," replied Chief Williams, who stated she had never seen so many arrests made in a single day during her 25-year plus career with the department.

"I'll admit we made mistakes. There were people who didn't get their property. Other things happened, so we learned a lot," she said.

Activists, who spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, do not think Phoenix police have learned enough.

"There was political prosecution that Chief Williams still refuses to acknowledge," said Bruce Franks Jr, a former Missouri politician, and a nationally known police-reform advocate.

Chief Williams briefly addressed the allegations her department targeted activist leaders.

"I probably shouldn't say much about it," she said, referring to the lawsuits her department is currently facing.

"The (Maricopa) County Attorney's Office would be the ones to send it to the grand jury and file the charges," she said. "The grand jury found evidence for the charges."

Franks Jr. was one of the leaders arrested in August. He has filed a lawsuit against the department.

He confronted Williams with the department's own stats.

"They've monitored and worked 285 protests and 95% of the time nobody was arrested," said Franks. "So you mean to tell me that 14 protests warranted the majority of those resources? That's fiscally irresponsible. You continue to profit off our poverty."

Chief Williams strongly defended her department's response and show of force.

"We were following the letter of the law and the rules of law while, at the same time, trying to make sure thousands of people who would gather to voice their discontent with the police, were still able to do so," she said. "And I believe they were able to do so."

She said her department is "trying to peacefully co-exist" with protesters.

Activists have questioned the department's desire to engage in meaningful reform and believe the "conversations" are a tactic to quell demonstrations.

Regardless, Chief Williams again publicly stated a desire to better communicate with protesters. The question remains, what is her staff doing to make that a reality?

"I would love to have the opportunity to have my team sit down with the organizers," said Chief Williams. "We’ve not been as successful as we should’ve been with that."

The city and police department have asked Arizona State University to conduct a review to "determine how the department can improve upon our approach and response to protests and civil unrest."

The study is being led by Dr. Ed Maguire, a professor and expert on protests. He told ABC15 that his team is doing the work for free.

He said his team is in the early stages of preparing for interviews and analysis. He expects to have a report completed by May.