PLEA held a press conference On Wednesday February 21, 2018 to express our concerns over Chief Williams’ refusal to correct a seriously flawed decision rendered by the use of force board with regard to a shooting incident that occurred December 26, 2015. As was to be expected, not long after our message went out, the Chief declined media interviews and instead opted to issue the following written statement:
“Law enforcement worldwide is under constant analysis as officers are regularly judged on their actions and inactions. As a 30-year veteran, I understand first-hand the challenges and split-second decision making our officers face every day. Each analysis is unique and cannot be compared to other situations.
In Phoenix, we welcome the opportunity to self-examine our work. We have a Use of Force and Discipline Review Boards that consist of citizens, peers including sworn officers, supervisors and subject matter experts. The purposes of these Boards is to conduct an independent administrative review that scrutinizes police situations. These Boards are used in addition to other standard internal review processes. I take the recommendations of the Boards very seriously. While there are times I may not agree with their recommendations and I may request more analysis, I know the Boards make their decisions on extensive review and testimony.
Our police officers are in unique positions that require them to have extra authority to protect and serve our community. With that comes a commitment to hold ourselves accountable for our actions. When we do not adhere to our own high standards and our own internal review processes, we place our officers and our community in danger and we erode the public trust we work so hard to maintain. “
A couple of things need to be pointed out here. First, we respect the Chief’s right to express her opinion and respond to our statements. Second, the Chief and the Chief alone is where the final authority rests. She holds the singular authority when it comes to reversing a Use of Force Board recommendation or letting it stand. Same holds true for a Disciplinary Review Board Decision. If there is a decision that is clearly off the rails as it was in this case, that is when the Chief should step in and make things right. She chose not to because there is now an apparent expectation that we use our superpowers to dodge rocks. However, that does not mean we have to stand by and silently acquiesce to decisions that we know to be unequivocally wrong.
Particularly troubling is the last paragraph of her statement. What is meant by “extra authority.” The authority held by peace officers is what it is. Is “extra authority” kind of like supersizing an order of fries at the drive through? A peace officers authority is derived from the state constitution and state law. Accountability for actions? The officer involved in this shooting used deadly force against a person presenting an imminent threat to him and another police officer. The US Supreme Court has referred to these instances where “officers are forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving.” The Chief’s comment seems to infer that the officer went beyond his authority. What is there to account for other than, when interviewed, to state that you fired because you were in fear for your life? The involved officer comported himself appropriately based on his training, state law and departmental polices none of which, by the way, were violated. Finally when speaking of not adhering to our own high standards and eroding the public trust well, this is where it just gets downright insulting. Why is this even being talked about in the context of this shooting where we have an officer that was the victim of a felony crime?