Police

The Phoenix Police Union Isn't Happy About That DOJ Probe

Phoenix police said they would cooperate with the DOJ probe. Some officers are pushing back.
Phoenix police said they would cooperate with the DOJ probe. Some officers are pushing back. Twitter/Phoenix police
After the Department of Justice announced an investigation into the Phoenix Police Department for discriminatory policing, use of force, and other misconduct, backlash has begun stirring among Phoenix cops.

Initial reactions to the news of the probe last week were muted: In a brief statement last Thursday, the Phoenix police union pledged it would “fully cooperate” with the investigation; Police Chief Jeri Williams acknowledged that there was “room for improvement” in the department.

But in an interview with KTAR News Monday morning, Phoenix police union president Michael Britt London adopted a more hostile tone, calling the probe “very concerning" and adding that the union’s cooperation with its findings “remains to be seen.” (London didn’t respond to New Times’ inquiries.)

“The first thing we did is start reaching out to our friends who have had to deal with the DOJ,” London said. “No one has anything good to say about it.” He later claimed that the Phoenix police department, in fact, "already keeps officers accountable."

In the interview, London seemed to express some confusion around what had prompted the probe in the first place — despite the department’s long and bloody track record of misconduct. London said he had asked attorneys with the DOJ “if it was the mayor or the council or one of our critics that brought them here.” They answered, according to London, only that “they had been looking at Phoenix for awhile.”

That would make sense: The Phoenix police department regularly tops lists for the law enforcement agency with the most police shootings nationally and has drawn national headlines for some of its more egregious use-of-force cases. But London brushed off the patterns, instead saying he was concerned that the DOJ would seize on “anything” to use as a reason to enter into a consent decree with the department — a method the agency uses to reform local police departments. “Of course that's just suspicion and speculation right now,” he said.

Such suspicion is running rampant on social media. One Phoenix cop, Jimmy Toon, commented on a Facebook news item about the investigation calling the probe a “slap in the face”: “The most corrupt agency in the nation and they’re doing an inquiry on our practices,” he wrote, saying that the agency should “handle their own business.”

Other local police officers are calling for outside intervention to fight off the probe. “I’ve been asking that the AZ [Attorney General's Office] assign a team to monitor the Biden DOJ’s investigation,” wrote James Hill, the president of the Maricopa County Community Colleges police union, on its Facebook page, saying it would “ensure the rights of Arizona Police Officers” were protected.

In an interview, Hill told Phoenix New Times that he found the probe to be “100 percent a political move,” which would amount to a “federal takeover” of local police. “This is just another arrow in the quiver of 'defund the police,'” he said, echoing pundits who have seized upon the Phoenix investigation as an example of liberal hostility to law enforcement. Attorney General Mark Brnovich, however, had not yet responded to his requests, Hill said.

Meanwhile, for the many politicians and activists who have long called for greater oversight and accountability for Phoenix cops, the news of the probe was gratifying. At a press conference on Friday, local organizers said they welcomed the news: “We want for real action to be taken,” said Kenneth Smith, with the Unity Collective, a local advocacy group.

But some activists have their reservations, too. In a Thursday statement, the advocacy group Poder in Action noted that DOJ probes have been “extremely costly to taxpayers, while increasing funding to police departments” and “recycling ineffective police reforms"  — even if they're unsettling for police.

“The legacy of the DOJ investigation,” the group warned, “will likely be another failed attempt to reign in the Phoenix Police Department, this time with a multi-million dollar price tag."
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. She previously reported for VTDigger and the Indypendent.
Contact: Katya Schwenk