On Monday, the Phoenix City Council approved roughly $3 million for the new civilian oversight body, dubbed the Office of Accountability and Transparency, as part of their $1.3 billion budget. It passed with a 7-2 vote, with council members Sal DiCiccio and Jim Waring opposing it.
The move comes amidst nationwide protests over police brutality — including 11 nightly protests in Phoenix — as well as calls from local activists to fully fund the civilian oversight office and slash spending on the police department. The council previously planned to vote on the budget on June 3, but punted the vote to this week following a lengthy six-hour long meeting with extensive public comment. (The original budget proposal only featured $400,000 for the oversight office.)
During the final budget vote, a small crowd of under a dozen sign-carrying protesters gathered near city council chambers at 200 West Jefferson Street to both support funding for the police oversight office and call for defunding the police, a proposal that has become a rallying cry for the local and national police brutality protests.
“They're funding a police department that is notorious. They're one of the top killers in the country,” said Cole Larson-Whittaker, one of the several protesters who stood outside of council chambers during the vote holding signs. “It's appalling that the budget is still so high when we should be spending money on mental health professionals. A lot of the people that die or are abused by the Phoenix Police are having a mental-health crisis and there's no one to call.”
“Our public officials, they're not listening to their constituents,” he added. “They're continuing to fund a police department without funding any community services really.”
The new oversight office would create a Community Review Board that would hold community meetings and review completed department internal investigations into officer conduct, while also enabling staff at the office to monitor and participate in internal investigations into officer misconduct and make recommendations.
Prior to the city council approving the new office last February, Phoenix was the largest U.S. city without an independent police oversight agency.
At Monday’s meeting, Councilman Carlos Garcia of Phoenix's District 8, who led the charge to establish the civilian oversight office earlier this year following several local high-profile police killings, characterized calls to “defund” the police department as a redirection of public funds to other community services.
“The budget is a moral document. It reflects our values as a city and it reflects how we value our community. When we hear our community say ‘defund the police,’ they’re actually asking us to invest in them,” Garcia said. “Our community is asking us to reconsider how we invest in them and we must look at this moving forward. We have the opportunity to change the way of doing things.”
In contrast, Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who voted against the budget, heaped praise on the Phoenix Police Department during the meeting.
“I just want to thank the police officers. We have an exceptional police department,” he said. “I know you haven’t heard this too much, but this needs to be said: We love you.”
Candace Mallette, another protester who stood outside of the council chambers during the budget vote, called the new funding for the civilian oversight office “baby steps.”
“I'm thankful for that. But, you know, it's just not enough,” she said. “More accountability. We definitely need to get some action and we're tired of police brutality. That's all it comes down to.”
There are ongoing protests in the Phoenix metro area on June 8, including one Black Lives Matter rally planned in Surprise starting at 5:30 p.m.