It took three hours of debate and discussion, but the Arizona House subcommittee on Military Affairs and Public Safety passed SB 1445, the controversial bill allowing the name of an officer involved in a deadly or violent incident to be withheld for 90 days.
"This is a very, very important--and I'd argue lifesaving--bill," said Republican Senator Steve Smith, the bill's primary sponsor. "We want to protect officers and their families from being convicted in the court of pubic opinion," he added, citing last year's shooting of Manuel Orosco Longoria in Eloy, Arizona. "That officer was immediately threatened physically, and on social media. There were threats to his life, to the point where the Pinal County Sheriff's Office had to put a 24/7 detail protection on his house."
Supporters of the bill argue that this 90-day window is "a cooling off period," and keeps the involved officer (and the officer's family) safe. They are quick to point out that there are exceptions to the 90-day waiting period: If "the peace officer is arrested or formally charged for actions relating to the incident; the criminal investigation of the incident is complete; the peace officer consents to the release in writing; or an Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure requires the release."
"This bill speaks directly to public safety," Smith said, because it will stop a "whimsical mob" from "roaming the streets looking for blood." (Many citizen observers did not take kindly to this description.) "This is not a shield to protect dirty, bad cops," Smith said, "and it is no way intended to limit transparency."
Opponents counter that it absolutely would limit transparency and only would make an already tense situation worse. "90 days doesn't give people time to cool down, it gives them time to simmer," Reverend Reginald Walton said. "We are trying to foster better police-community relationships, and this bill does not do that--[it only] increases the apathy and animosity between the community and the system."
"Concealing information encourages distrust," another speaker said. "People don't demand infallibility from pubic institutions, but they can't trust what they don't see." He said that the bill would be "a surefire way to create a ticking-time situation in the community [because] the answer to [public distrust] is getting facts out, not concealing them."
Alessandra Soler, Executive Director of the Arizona ACLU, agreed. "The release of a name actually reduces tension," she told legislators.
Over three hours, the debate jumped between the local situation in Arizona and the larger national conversation about community-police relations, the justice system, and accountability. At time legislators told speakers that what happened in Ferguson, Missouri was unrelated, only to later bring it up to prove a point.
Many also blamed the media for perpetuating tensions and manufacturing much of the recent controversy in Ferguson and New York City. (The irony of over-sensationalizing how angry people were after a Phoenix police officer shot and killed Rumain Brisbon last year--the term "mob" was thrown around quite a bit--appeared to be lost on these story tellers.)
"I think this bill is slanted to one perspective and narrative. It's to protect police and the not the public," Pastor Warren Stewart jr said. "[Smith's] comments about us being an angry mob are arrogant and atrocious. The narrative that is being put through in this bill is wicked and sinful."
In his closing remarks, Senator Smith highlighted how this preventative measure would help keep the police safe. "I don't want to wait until we have a dead officer," he said.
"SB-1445 proposes to prevent a set of hypothetical situations," said local resident Muwwakkil Qawwee. "Do I wish to see a police officer or his family hurt, harmed? Of course not! We have an opportunity to craft legislation that properly protects against hypotheticals and moves us into the realm of reality. "
"The issue isn't the mob of citizens marching on town squares or city hall with hot heads needing space to cool down. The issue is a lack of transparency; lack of prosecution which speaks to an over all lack of accountability--both from a legislative vantage point and within our Police Departments. Imposing a forced cool down period doesn't keep an officer safe. It instead hides them from the public, further lending to the appearance of foul play."
The bill passed 7-2, and now will advance to the House Floor.
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