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Demonstrators rally outside Tempe council meeting after man drowns in Tempe Town Lake

Tempe passed the budget after hours of public comment
Posted at 10:23 PM, Jun 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-10 09:31:00-04

TEMPE — After four hours of public comment Thursday, Tempe City Council voted to pass the budget, which will add 19 positions to the Tempe Police Department.

Tempe Mayor Corey Woods says nine of those positions will be sworn officers, the other positions will be staff members, like dispatchers or neighborhood ambassadors who could potentially respond to incidents where an actual police officer is not needed. He says the positions were frozen since the start of the pandemic.

This comes at a time when Tempe police are under the microscope for how they responded the day Sean Bickings died.

Police say 34-year-old Bickings got into an argument with his partner near Tempe Town Lake. Officers on scene ran their names through a database and learned Bickings had outstanding warrants.

Police say Bickings climbed a fence and entered the lake. Officers shouted commands and called a police boat, but never entered the water. Bickings went under and did not survive.

"Say his name! Madrocks! Say his name! Madrocks!" shouted demonstrators who gathered outside of the budget meeting. Bickings was affectionately known in the community as "Madrocks."

Groups demanded the city block the budget, defund police and improve community resources.

Mimi Arayya and other members of local activist groups were among those who gathered outside Tempe's city council chambers Thursday.

"We keep finding ourselves yelling into the void of city bureaucracy to stop killing us, stop facilitating our death and stop encouraging our destruction with your inaction," said Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro's Arayya.

The union for Tempe Police say their officers do not have water rescue training or the equipment to help people at risk of drowning.

"How dare they say they'd listen to us and turn around to spend $2.5 million to unfreeze 19 new police positions," said White People Against White Supremacy's Kelly Kwok.

Voices of the community carried from outside to inside in front of councilors.

"The director told him they were not going to help him. They heard him say he was drowning," said a resident who addressed the council.

The groups instead want funding to be spent on food and backyard garden programs in Tempe's lower-income areas and permanent mental health counselors in local middle schools.

Mayor Woods also told ABC15 he met with Bickings two days prior to his death to discuss services for those experiencing homelessness. He says the video made him emotional.

"I don't think you can watch something like that without feeling very uncomfortable about what transpired," Woods said. "I personally saw the video myself and went back to my office and cried and I have never cried in my office after ten years of being here at city council but that's how much that video moved me."

Woods says he is now looking into adding additional resources at Tempe Town Lake, like flotation devices, that could be readily available for someone to throw in the water in case someone goes under.