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Phoenix Police Shootings the Subject of Hearing Before Lawmakers

After 31 officer-involved shootings in Phoenix in 2013, and another eight so far in 2014, an Arizona House committee held a hearing yesterday to try to find the reasons why there have been so many shootings.

Two Phoenix councilmen plus a sergeant from the Phoenix Police Department gave various explanations for the shootings to the House Public Safety, Military and Regulatory Affairs Committee yesterday.

Councilman Sal DiCiccio suggested that the city needs to hire more police officers, and claimed the city doesn't have a "focus" on the police department. DiCiccio spent a good deal of time harping on the city budget, including things he believes are wasteful city projects and money spent on employee pensions, as barriers to hiring more officers.

Phoenix Police Sergeant Trent Crump, a department spokesman, later explained that in some of these officer-involved shootings, 50 to 100 officers can be at the scene, which doesn't represent a "staffing issue," he said.

Crump said Police Chief Daniel Garcia has commissioned a thorough review of shootings to try to figure out some of the root causes, including everything from officer training to background on suspects, and more.

For example, of the 31 shootings last year, Crump said between 15 and 20 of the people shot by police had multiple felony convictions, and were on some sort of release from jail or prison systems, like bail or parole.

He said a lot of them acted on "desperation," knowing a long trip back to prison was imminent.

The number of shootings has also coincided with an increase in assaults on police officers. Crump said there were 875 in 2011, and more than 1,000 in 2013.

Both Crump and Councilman Michael Nowakowski suggested improvements to the juvenile justice system might help prevent officer-involved shootings.

Nowakowski said the "slaps on the wrist" doled out by the juvenile justice system in Maricopa County seem to start a cycle of crime. Crump added that it might be worth considering changing how 15-, 16- and 17-year-old kids are dealt with in juvenile court after committing violent felonies.

Representatives of the Tucson Police Department, Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, and Arizona Police Association also gave comments to the committee on the state of police shootings statewide.

Republican Representative Justice Pierce, the chairman of the committee, said "several sources" requested that he hold such a hearing, to try to find a cause of the increase in shootings, but also see if there's anything lawmakers can do about the situation.

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