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From left to right, top row: Carlos Garcia, Ken Crane, Viri Hernandez, Kevin Robinson, Thelda Williams. Bottom row: Jamaar Williams, Jay Swart, Julie Erfle, Cleo Lewis, and Janelle Wood.EXPAND
From left to right, top row: Carlos Garcia, Ken Crane, Viri Hernandez, Kevin Robinson, Thelda Williams. Bottom row: Jamaar Williams, Jay Swart, Julie Erfle, Cleo Lewis, and Janelle Wood.
Via social media

Latest Phoenix Police Reform Panel Moves Forward but Will It Make a Difference?

The ad hoc committee called by Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego to implement long-stalled police reforms met for the second time on Thursday, though with just nine meetings left and some agenda items skipped over entirely, whether the committee will be able to tackle the Phoenix Police Department's deeply entrenched problems remains to be seen.

The Review and Implementation Ad Hoc Committee is tasked with reviewing past suggestions to reform the Phoenix Police Department that were never put in place, and making its own recommendations, which, several members of the committee hope, will actually make a difference this time around.

The committee will review five reports and recommendations from previous task forces, almost all of which, like this committee, were made in response to high-profile incidents of abuses of power and bad publicity for the Phoenix Police Department. Here are the reports and previous task forces that panel members will be looking at:

• The Community Engagement and Outreach Task Force, which was created in 2010 in response to former Phoenix City Council member and retired police officer, Michael Johnson, who is black, being handcuffed and thrown to the ground by a Phoenix police officer while he was trying to assist his neighbor whose house was on fire.

• The Community Police Trust Initiative, formed in 2015 on the heels of the deaths of Michelle Cusseux and Rumain Brisbon, both of whom were killed by police in shocking incidents that garnered national attention.

• The Berkshire Advisors Report, published in 2010, which reviewed how the police department is operating and using resources and advised the department on how it could improve.

• The National Police Foundation Report, published earlier this year, which was conducted in response to Phoenix police officers shooting at more people than any other police department in the country in 2018.

• Chief Jeri Williams' five-point plan, made this past June after a video of a Phoenix police officer threatening to shoot an unarmed black man in the head in front of his pregnant wife and children gained international attention.

The meeting on Thursday was at least somewhat livelier than the committee's first one, where there was little group discussion. Several members expressed frustration with the fact that committee after committee has been called in response to problems with the Phoenix Police Department, yet little has been done.

"We're here 10 years later, and it feels like we're doing the same thing," said Jamaar Williams, a public defender.

Another committee member, former Phoenix police officer Cleo Lewis, echoed that sentiment, noting that it seemed the committee had been called, like all other committees, to "put out a fire."

Williams, Viri Hernandez, director of Poder in Action, a police reform group, and Janelle Wood, founder of the Black Mothers Forum, expressed concern that the burden of improving police-community relations seemed to be put on the community.

"It's not on the community to do this, it needs to be internal because the community is getting affected by this," Wood said. "The implementation of these recommendations or lack of implementation is not working."

Michael Kurtenbach, Chief Jeri Williams' second-in-command, said the department has already implemented some of Williams recommendations from her five-point plan, including officers undergoing implicit bias training.

Hernandez then said she asked to participate in the implicit bias training, but the department declined, even though police officials have repeatedly emphasized making the community more involved.

Shawn Pearson, founder of the Zion Early Learning Academy, said if implicit bias training is ineffectual on certain officers, the problem may lie with how officers are being recruited. That led another committee member, David Martinez III, an executive with the Vitalyst Health Foundation, to note that police officers' biases are no longer something that's solely internal, and that those biases have become public via officers' racist Facebook posts. Martinez had previously said that recommendations from this committee should become mandates.

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