Arizona Capitol

Arizona Citizens Speak Out Against "Secret Police Bill"

Update 3/17/15 7:30 p.m.: An amendment to SB 1445 passed in the House Wednesday afternoon. The vote was 44 to 13, with three members not voting. (View the full voting breakdown here)

Original story follows:

Community leaders and members of the ACLU gathered on the capital lawn this morning to speak out against SB 1445, a controversial bill that "limits the release of the name of a peace officer who is involved in a use of deadly physical force incident for 60 days."

It's scheduled to be read for the third time this afternoon in the House, where it's expected to pass and soon move on to the Governor's office.

Community member Channel Powe said the bill is "a black eye on Arizona." She urged lawmakers to vote against this "immoral and unconstitutional" measure that "limits transparency and promotes discrimination."

Arizona ACLU Executive Director, Alessandra Soler, called the bill "un-American" for "taking away the public's right to know." (An earlier version of the bill actually mandated that the names be kept secret for 90 days.) She and others say that secrecy brews distrust, and that the bill "creates a secret police force, which is the antithesis of democracy."

See also: -Bill to Withhold Names of Officers Involved in Violent Incidents Advances in AZ House -Arizona Senate Passes Bill to Delay Releasing Identities of Police Involved in Shootings

No supporters of the bill were present this morning, but in the past, they've argued that a "cooling off period" after a violent and controversial event will help protect police officers and their families. The bill's sponsor, state Senator Steve Smith, has said it will stop a "whimsical mob" from "roaming the streets looking for blood."

As multiple speakers this morning pointed out, there are already laws on the books that allow law enforcement agencies to withhold information about officers for safety reasons. For instance--and as stated in the SB 1445 overview--A.R.S. § 39-123 says records should be public "unless the release is not in the best interest of the state, taking into consideration the privacy, confidentiality, and safety of the officer."

In defending his bill, Smith often references the killing of Rumain Brisban, and the "angry mobs" that protested after. Brisban, a 34-year old unarmed black man was shot by a white police officer in December 2014. Many in the community find Smith's remarks not only insulting, but factually incorrect, since no one went to the officer's house after the incident, they say.

"There has been no killing, and no evidence of any [officer] whose name has been released...getting hurt," Pastor Warren Stewart jr. told the crowd. "This bill calls for secrecy, and secrecy is suspicious."

One particularly poignant speaker was Lawrence Robinson, a professor at Arizona Summit Law School. "This bill, SB 1445, is a solution seeking a problem that doesn't exist. It is allowing the activist wing of our Arizona Legislature to make a political point that is not only going to jeopardize police, it's going to jeopardize the trust that our community is based up."

He went on to say the bill makes it seem that police officers, the "actors that we've trusted for years and years in this society, now have something to hide...Do not create another wedge, do not create another level of distrust, do not create a situation that we've seen in other parts of this nation where communities become so upset, and the tension becomes so high, that they chose to take action into their own hands that is not only violent but unproductive. This action, SB 1445, is violent and unproductive."

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser