PHOENIX, Az. – A new rule will now require Phoenix police officers to file a report every single time that they draw their service weapon and point it at a person. 

After a significant amount of backlash concerning incidents over Phoenix officers’ use of force, including a notorious incident when police drew their weapons on a family who had allegedly stolen items from a dollar store, the department is taking measures to improve community relations.

Phoenix officers and dispatchers received a number of death threats after tensions were heightened in the community over police use of force. (AF.mil)

 

According to USATODAY, the city ordered the $150,000 National Police Foundation study after Phoenix police were involved in 44 police shootings in 2018, more than any other city in the nation. 

Police shootings are down significantly in the first half of 2018. Phoenix officers have been involved in nine shootings through July 16 — a 70% drop from the 30 shootings during the same time period in 2018.

The Arizona department is working to implement recommended action items from the National Police Foundation. 

 

Mayor Kate Gallego announced this week that now more than 1,700 officers have been outfitted with body cameras in order to ensure accountability as well as have another tool for investigations into future cases.

“We believe this is an important step for accountability and transparency,” Gallego said. 

They also have required that officers document a specific report every time they draw and point their weapon at a suspect, as well as instituting a mandatory 8-hour training session about how to better handle individuals undergoing a mental health crisis.

City leaders say all of these measures will help ensure that police and citizens remain safe.

Chief Jeri Williams issued a statement about the department’s adoption of the new policies and equipment. 

“We took the bull by the horns and we really jumped all in with our community to show our transparency, to show our accountability — to show the fact that we are a part of the community,” Williams said.

But the new standards leave a few questions unanswered, with some asking why it’s necessary for police to report every time they’ve had to point their gun at a suspect. Chief Williams addressed that concern, saying the data gathered will help paint a better image of how situations unfold.

“This will allow us to have a real idea of how many times our officers are able to successfully de-escalate a situation with the potential of deadly force,” Williams said.

The department isn’t done with its efforts to increase transparency and trust within the Phoenix area. They say that in the coming year, they’ll be providing body-worn cameras to traffic, neighborhood enforcement teams, community action officers, downtown operations unit and SWAT in the next phase of their initiative. 

 

As for the mental health issue, Williams said that everyone is in support of the training, as most officers only are equipped with an initial course from the academy. Without pursuing further voluntary training, it often ends there.

“We’ve learned that both our community and police officers agree that this change is needed and necessary,” Williams said.

Erica Chestnut-Ramirez, director of crisis and trauma healing services for La Frontera Arizona, spoke about the training. 

“We want them to be able to identify when someone is in crisis and having a bad day and how to help them get to the resources they need,” Chestnut-Ramirez said. 

Police in California are facing some different kinds of standards after the ‘Stephon Clark Law’ was finalized by Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Mayor Gavin Newsom approved Assembly Bill 392 on Monday, and police in California are now fearing for their safety in regards to some of the new rules.

This bill, referred to as ‘Stephon Clark’s Law’, was introduced to regulate police use of deadly force. Though the bill has been amended as it passed its way through the political process, it still fundamentally changes the terms in which police are authorized to kill when they need to. 

Some say the bill doesn’t go far enough, but they’ll take what they can get.

“The bill is watered down, everybody knows that,” said Stevante Clark, Stephon Clark’s brother. “But at least we are getting something done. At least we are having the conversation now.”

Stephon Clark was killed by police in 2018 after running from officers who were investigating reports of someone breaking into cars. Investigators said body cam footage and other evidence showed that one of the officers shouted at Clark to show his hands, that they took cover during the incident and that they saw a flash of light that one officer believed was the muzzle flash of a gun and the other thought was light reflecting off a gun.

The case quickly became sensationalized in the media over the topic of race. Investigators did not file formal charges against the officers that were involved.

Helicopter footage shows the moments after Stephon Clark was fatally shot by police. (Sacramento Police Department)

 

The new legislation requires that officers exhaust deescalation tactics with their suspects before being legal authorized to enact force. 

“This bill would redefine the circumstances under which a homicide by a peace officer is deemed justifiable to include when the officer reasonably believes, based on the totality of the circumstances, that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person, or to apprehend a fleeing person for a felony that threatened or resulted in death or serious bodily injury, if the officer reasonably believes that the person will cause death or serious bodily injury to another unless the person is immediately apprehended.”

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Of course, any reasonable person would clearly not want police to harm innocent people. But how many times are officers found to be guilty of killing without cause? How many shootings of ‘unarmed black men’ are overblown on social media and in the news, just to later find that the officer was completely justified in their actions? How many times is the cry for ‘justice’ actually just demanding unwarranted vengeance against that cop before the facts are released?

 

Democratic assemblywoman Shirley Weber authored the bill.

“This will make a difference not only in California but we know it will make a difference around the world,” she said. “We are doing something today that stretches the boundaries of possibility.”

But is this law going to save lives? Or, as some argue, does it place police officers at further risk of bodily injury or death?

Police officers are often tasked with making a decision within a split-second. Without any time to sit and process what’s happening, they rely on their training and experience to protect themselves, their partners and innocent civilians.

Police officers have new rules regarding when a shooting is considered justified. (Weber County Attorney’s Office)

 

So because of harsher standards over what may be looked at as justified and what may be deemed worse… might an officer pause a moment too long, potentially costing them their life?

The LA Times reported that under the new standard, prosecutors can also consider the actions both of officers and of the victim leading up to a deadly encounter, to determine whether the officer acted within the scope of law, policy and training.

Let’s stop for a moment.

It is easy to look at the totality of circumstances after the fact. Officers have to make a split-second decision. They do not always have access to the totality. This legislation uses vague terminology to the detriment of officers, their safety and their decision-making process.

Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff Julie Robertson faced this exact scenario last year. She testified how her partner, Mark Stasyuk, died last fall during a gunfight and she hesitated as the suspect shot at her with only his back exposed.

All it takes is that extra moment… and life will never be the same. 

Mark Stasyuk

(Graphics courtesy Rose Borisow GrafX)

 

“I recall in that moment thinking that if I were to shoot him in the back, I would be the next officer in the news being scrutinized for my actions,” Robertson said. “The thought of having to second-guess my actions in that moment is frightening. This bill makes me wonder if sacrificing everything is worth it.”

Critics on social media said the law still wasn’t strict enough and that officers should “be legally bound to exhaust every alternative to lethal force before they’re allowed to kill.” 

 

Others say it stems from a racial issue.

“We’re dealing with a racist society, and we want to hide behind all these other laws and anything else,” Steven Bradford (D-Compton) said. “This is straight about race, and all the training in the world, unless you change your heart and your mind, will not have any effect on how our policing happens in this country.”

Whatever the case, police in California now have new standards for their daily lives – as well as new concerns.

The exact wording in the law changes from “reasonable” cause to use force to “necessary”.

The LA Times said that Stephon Clark’s Law opens the door for prosecutors to look at more factors when making a charging decision, including events leading up to the deadly encounter. But it doesn’t provide clear language on what “necessary” means.

That will be left to prosecutors and courts to decide.

 

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