MESA, AZ — Rather than screams, chants and protests; it was a calm, civil conversation among those who lead some East Valley police departments, and those who live in the cities they serve.
“With everything that’s happening, we gotta do it now," said Pastor Andre Miller, who invited four East Valley police chiefs, and community members to New Beginnings Christian Church off Gilbert Road and Main Street in Mesa. "We can’t just keep kicking the can down the road or keep waiting for the next big incident or next big situation to happen.”
The Valley Concerned Citizens Police Forum, held just days after Phoenix city leaders voted to implement a citizens review board amid several high-profile use of force incidents, drew more than a dozen residents who asked about agency hiring practices, and discipline processes, among other things.
Among attendees, Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir, Gilbert Police Chief Mike Soelberg, and Interim-Chief for the Mesa Police Department, Ken Cost. Chief Sean Duggan with the Chandler Police Department was also expected at Friday's forum but told church officials he was unable to attend just hours before the meeting began.
"I hope to get what is on the minds of the community," said Chief Moir. "I hope I get some really good questions about the truths behind policing, a lot of folks have a lot of misunderstandings about policing."
The Tempe Police Department received major backlash for the death of 14-year-old Antonio Arce in January of 2019, and more recently, for another incident where a Tempe officer was seen shoving an 11-year-old boy after detaining the boy's older brother.
The Mesa Police Department also scrutinized for similar incidents, including an excessive use-of-force complaint surrounding five Mesa officers seen beating 35-year-old Robert Johnson in the hallway of an apartment complex, alongside several others filed when former Chief Ramon Batista led the department.
"We're putting a period on that and moving forward," Interim Chief Cost said Friday.
Cost, named chief just four months ago, joked that he doesn't have it all figured out to the group of men and woman present Friday, despite his 25 years on the force.
"I think anytime there's tension or questions or concern it comes down to trust and it comes down to relationships," he said.
Several leaders also mentioned the role of citizen review boards, Chief Moir telling ABC15 she supports the group, who's helped make recommendations to her department since its inception in 1999.
“There’s a real strength in having a citizens review board as we have," said Moir. "The folks are not put in the public eye, they’re not prone to public pressure. They are prone to high values, they are trained they are really brought in behind the curtain. And they examine our cases in full. We are completely open and transparent with them and they make recommendations."
Pastor Miller hoping the discussion with respective chiefs gets back to officers on the streets.
“I hope they can take the conversation, they can take the comments and they can take those back to the people who are under them," said Miller. "If the message is not passed down to a line officer then we’ve done nothing.”