A renewed effort is taking place to form a police civilian review board after 41 officer-involved shootings in the city of Phoenix so far this year.
Joanna Scott Woods, the woman behind the petition, says she wants to see more accountability for police actions after the death of a family friend, Rumain Brisbane in 2014. Brisbane was killed during a police incident and while the officer was cleared, and the shooting justified, Woods said Brisbane's family eventually received a $1.5-million settlement in a civil wrongful death lawsuit filed by his family.
Woods is bringing forth a similar petition that was shot down by city council members last year. The hand-written citizen's petition sparked more than an hour of public comment.
This time Woods said her plea was coming at a time when there was a nationwide outcry for accountability from police departments across the country.
President of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, Ken Crane, admitted officers found the idea of civilians reviewing their actions as "leery."
"Say you're an attorney and somebody files a bar complaint against you. Who reviews that misconduct? The bar association or other lawyers and judges. Say I'm a pilot and I make a mistake. Who reviews that complaint? The FAA does, other pilots. If I'm a doctor the American Medical Association does, a group of doctors and surgeons. I want somebody sitting in judgment of me that understands my career, my profession," said Crane.
“Guys that don't have a clue about what I do, they've never walked a mile in my shoes and don't know what it's like to stare down the barrel of a gun or have someone charge you with a knife, and we have to make a split second decision. How are they going to judge me?" Crane added.
Phoenix police added that they already had civilians on several existing committees within the police department.
Police spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson said the Use of Force board consisted of six people. The assistant police chief who was the chair, a police commander, a peer representative of the employee involved in the investigation, and three members who were citizens.
The Disciplinary review board that determined the suspension, demotion, or termination of an officer also had two citizens on the board along with the assistant police chief, two commanders, and a peer representative of the employee involved in the hearing.
Research done at Cal State Fullerton showed civilian review boards existed in more than 100 cities across the United States. The committees were formed with the overall goal of increasing trust within the community and transparency, but the study also highlighted major problems with these boards.
One researcher stated a big problem was that the boards had little authority when it came to investigating complaints. They had no subpoena power to call in witnesses, and all they could do was make recommendations to the Chief of police in their jurisdiction, they could not take direct action against officers. Studies found that most departments were simply ignoring suggestions presented to them by the civilian review boards.
Another researcher called the idea "weak" at best as the board members held no power to hold public meetings, while several others call it a good first step.