Arizona Capitol

"Secret Police Bill" Passes in AZ Senate Amidst Protest

Members of the ACLU, NAACP, and other local activist organizations assembled at the State Capitol minutes after the Arizona Senate passed SB 1445, the controversial bill that prevents police departments from releasing the name of an officer involved in a violent incident for 60 days. The final vote held Tuesday afternoon was 20 to 8, and the bill is now in Governor Doug Ducey's hands.

"We are here to demand a veto of SB 1445," said Channel Powe, one of the event's organizers. "The Arizona legislature is sending a message that one life is more valued than another."

Supporters of the bill contend that it provides a "cooling-off period" to temper public outrage after an officer-involved shooting incident. Opponents say the bill limits transparency and increases community distrust of the police.

"With everything that is happening nationally, with everything that has happened locally, we have to ask if this is good enough for Arizona," state Representative Reginald Bolding told the crowd. "This has never been about being pro-police or anti-police...I don't think this bill does anything to bring the community together."

Many opponents are insulted by remarks the bill's sponsor, state Senator Steve Smith, made that mis-characterized past peaceful protesters as angry mobs out for blood.

SB 1445 "implies that we don't have the ability to stay calm," said State Senator Martin Quezada, who came to speak out against the bill shortly after voting not to pass it.

See also: -Arizona Citizens Speak Out Against "Secret Police Bill" -Bill to Withhold Names of Officers Involved in Violent Incidents Advances in AZ House

Donald Harris, president of the Maricopa County NAACP, explained that the intention of this bill is to limit information. "What is wrong with knowing the truth?" he asked. "What are they afraid of?"

At one point during the protest, a handful of organizers went to Ducey's office and hand-delivered a petition with over 2,300 signatures. The governor did not make an appearance, but two senior staff members accepted the document on his behalf.

According to Steve Kilar of the ACLU, Ducey has less than a week to sign or veto the bill. Yesterday's organizers called for a national call-in day and asked community members to "flood" Ducey's office with phone calls and emails.

Below is a prepared statement Muwwakkil Qawwee, a concerned community member and activist against police impunity, presented to the House earlier this month:

As a member of the community who in recent months marched in protest, I nor any of the others present who I stood shoulder to shoulder with, did so from an Anti-Police position. If anything, we're Pro-Justice. The disconnect in this forum even, is the language of Protection of an officer & his family vs. a forced 'Cooling Down' period. In other words, "the Publics Right to know vs. the appearance of Cover Up"

SB-1445 proposes to prevent a set of hypothetical situations (which pose a potential security risk) from occurring. I get it! Do I wish to see a police officer or his family hurt, harmed etc? Of course not! We have an opportunity to craft legislation that properly protects against hypotheticals and moves us into the realm of reality. 'We The People' are being asked to trust a system that hasn't served us from a judicial standpoint.

Per Senator Smith, this legislation is intended to prevent a Peace Officer from being tried in the court of Public Opinion. Unfortunately, the court of Public Opinion is the ONLY court that these officers are being tried in - even in a remote sense. What in REALITY amounts to due process? The concern raised by members of the committee is that the court of public opinion will lead to the potential jury pool being tainted. The problem with that is, there's a lack of prosecution in these instances, and without indictment or findings of wrongdoing and/or misconduct - in documented case after documented case here in Arizona (Rumain Brisbon being the most recent). The lack thereof fosters more distrust between citizens & law enforcement, which naturally creates a rift.

The people, 'We the People', desire legislation that doesn't empower ANYONE (regardless of your job responsibilities) to some untouchable level of Super Citizenship. Withholding this information from the public is a sure fire way to have this WHIMSICAL group of Phoenix citizens or 'We The Mobb' (as Sen. Smith has branded us) from further feeling that a 'Cover Up' is more important than Prosecution. This legislation proposes to shut the people out of a system with blatant transparency issues already. It 'SCREAMS' cover up, which breeds distrust; and will further infuriate the people.

As for this proposed legislation leaving space for a cooling down period of 30; 60; 90 Days etc. None of these are viable options. Why? Because the issue isn't 'The Mobb' 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. SB-1445 and legislation such as this is "Bad News".

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