Police

DOJ Probe Into Phoenix Police Has Cost City $1.9 Million So Far

Phoenix Police Department headquarters.
Phoenix Police Department headquarters. Sean Holstege
It has been nearly a year since the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was launching a massive investigation into the Phoenix Police Department, probing the department's use of force and whether it engages in discriminatory policing.

Now we have a glimpse of just how massive that undertaking is.

In that time, the city of Phoenix has spent nearly $2 million on the probe, the city announced in an update on Thursday. City hall has turned over more than 1 million pages of documents to the DOJ for review.

Those costs include legal representation, outside consultants, a platform to manage the records, and the salaries of nine full-time employees who are working to answer the DOJ's requests.

A year and $1.9 million into the investigation, however, many questions remain unanswered. The city did not indicate whether the scope of the investigation has changed, or whether it is nearing a close. Dan Wilson, a city spokesperson, said those questions should go to the Department of Justice. The agency's public affairs bureau did not return calls from Phoenix New Times.

When the DOJ investigation launched on August 5, 2021, the Department of Justice outlined several areas of interest in its probe of the Phoenix police. It is what's called a "pattern or practice" investigation. This is not a criminal investigation but a wide-ranging civil review, looking for systemic misconduct.

In Phoenix, the Justice Department said, the probe would focus on five areas: Officers' use of excessive and deadly force, discriminatory policing practices, retaliation against protesters, and treatment of people who are disabled or homeless.

A website created by the city to provide updates on the probe sheds some light on how the DOJ is pursuing these questions. The agency, according to the city, has requested documents regarding police response to "First Amendment protected activities" as well as documents specifically related to the "ACAB gang" protest scandal, where protesters were charged with criminal gang activity.

If similar probes in other cities are any indication, the initial phase of the DOJ's investigation may be nearing an end. The investigative phase of the 2016 DOJ probe into the Chicago Police Department took around 13 months. The agency's 2015 investigation into the Baltimore Police Department lasted 15 months.

In Phoenix, the city has hired a high-profile attorney to guide them through an investigation: Michael Bromwich, a former federal prosecutor who once served as the inspector general for the DOJ. Attorneys with his firm, Steptoe & Johnson, charge up to $695 an hour. So far, the city has spent more than $57,000 on legal expenses.

The city also spent $121,752 on a compliance system to manage and provide the records procured by the Department of Justice, and another $1,354,283 on compensation costs for the nine full-time employees working on the probe. These employees in the Phoenix police department and law department were reassigned to work with the Department of Justice, Wilson said.

Asked about the city's budget for the remainder of the investigation, Wilson said, "Anticipating future cost is nearly impossible as it depends on the outcome of the investigation."

In May, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams announced she would retire sometime this summer, amid ongoing scandals at the department. A replacement has not yet been announced, and Williams remains in the position, but the city has said the next chief will be selected specifically to lead the department through the DOJ probe.

Once the investigation is complete, the Department of Justice will likely release a report of its findings, as it has in other cities, and enter into a consent decree with the city of Phoenix — essentially a legal agreement stipulating changes the city must make to policing practices. This process can stretch on for years.

It can also prove expensive. In Chicago and Baltimore, the costs from the initial investigation totaled $25.7 million and $10.5 million, respectively. But in Baltimore, compliance with the consent decree cost far more; the police compliance unit had a $38.6 million budget this year, according to figures compiled by the city of Phoenix.

This $1.9 million, then, might just be the beginning for the city of Phoenix.
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times. Originally from Burlington, Vermont, she now covers issues ranging from policing to far-right politics here in Phoenix. She has worked as a breaking news correspondent in Rabat, Morocco, for Morocco World News, a government technology reporter for Scoop News Group in Washington, D.C., and a local reporter in Vermont for VTDigger. Her freelance work has been published in Business Insider, the Intercept, and the American Prospect, among other places.
Contact: Katya Schwenk