The topic of the creation of a civilian review committee for our city is something that has been at the forefront of our minds at PLEA. In an attempt to better understand a model of review that would actually work for the benefit of our membership and the community, we have been in touch with numerous cities, police departments, police labor associations and political figures. We have found that no perfect model exists. Room for argument and accusation remains in many cities and departments that implemented civilian review, the complete opposite of what I am sure was the best intention of those communities. Is there a way to satisfy everyone?
When a person attends a City Council meeting, addresses the council from the podium and speaks for their community, they are speaking for their personal definition of community, not the entire population of a locality. I believe that “community” should be recognized as being made up of the people who live in and provide service to a populated area, all working together to create optimal living conditions. Is it possible to define community as a singular group? A city the size of Phoenix is diverse in race, religion, politics and interests, and people aligned with a single aspect of this diversity can influence the people of another aspect. Of course, the confidence we have in elected leadership is recognition of all moving parts when making an unbiased decision that should be for the welfare of all. It seems to be an almost impossible task, however, to make one decision that is good for everyone.
A diverse population makes a community of varied cultures and thought, and the community is governed by law that should be fair to all, allowing for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We will never see legislation that will be absolutely void of question or conflict. I have seen the legislative process firsthand, and I can say that influence, not intellect, is the best tool to have when pushing a bill to become law. A law can help one group of people and hurt another, and so can establishing any process based on influence and not truth.
A community benefiting plan made by one group will benefit only that group if the others have been excluded from the planning.
Some people may think that Phoenix is one community in which everyone has the same needs, but that would be wrong. We are different people with different ideas of how to live our lives, as it should be. Live and let live. But, regardless of your group, everyone needs to follow some rules that apply to all. Phoenix police officers are a group within the community of Phoenix. Our esteemed role in the community is to enforce laws and provide services that enhance the quality of life for all Phoenix residents, our community. The unique thing about the cop job is that we must enforce the same law to different people and cultures within our community, which can lead to misunderstanding if there is no familiarity with a certain law. Then there are those in the community who willingly break the law and prove harmful to others. When some of those lawbreakers are caught, they want to point fingers and try to do anything to deflect and disassociate themselves from their actions. This causes another hurdle in the justice system. Many police officers feel the community should also be held responsible when a false or misleading claim is made against an individual officer. Unfortunately, the Phoenix Police Department does nothing for an officer’s personal reputation, such as filing charges for a false complaint, even when the officer has been cleared of a false allegation. PLEA has tried to find a remedy for complaints of this type in the most recent and previous contracts. However, we’ve been told “it will have a chilling effect” on those trying to report misconduct. It should have a “chilling effect” when someone intends to file a blatantly false allegation! As it stands, as a police labor organization, it looks like we will need to find a way to change that on our end.
Existing systems can and should be improved, but when necessary. The integration of civilians in the review and discipline system the Phoenix Police Department has had for so many years works for us. Can the process be improved? Sure. But every group making up our community, even police officers, should be involved and given equal input and consideration.
No one person or governing body can say or decide what is in the best interest of a diverse group of almost two million people without reaching out to representatives of each group. A community benefiting plan made by one group will benefit only that group if the others have been excluded from the planning.
Being hopeful, we at PLEA are ready to see what the City Council actually thinks will benefit those members of the Phoenix community who enforce the law. This decision will last in the minds of the new generation of officers for their entire career.