Tempe public-safety panel completes final meeting; city implements Eight Can’t Wait de-escalation policies

Reform is coming to the Tempe Police Department, especially relating to its use-of-force-policies.

Updated Jan. 29, 2021

To say that creation of the Tempe Public Safety Advisory Task Force elicited meaningful discussion would be an understatement.

So much came out of the initially scheduled six three-hour meetings that a seventh and final meeting was added Jan. 27. Now the panel will draft recommendations and make them available to the public in February for review and comment.

Mayor Corey Woods, who created the group and appointed its 22 members, said that the city isn’t waiting for the task force to complete its work to move forward.

Tempe has implemented measures that make it the first city in Maricopa County and the second in Arizona to Tucson to qualify for Eight Can’t Wait, a set of policies by the national organization Campaign Zero that cities can include in their use-of-force policies.

The Eight Can’t Wait policies:

  • Bans chokeholds and strangleholds.
  • Requires a warning before shooting.
  • Makes it the duty of officers to intervene if a fellow officer engages in excessive force.
  • Requires a use-of-force continuum that restricts most-severe force to most-extreme situations.
  • Requires officers to de-escalate a situation where possible through communication and maintaining distance.
  • Requires officers to exhaust all alternatives before resorting to deadly force.
  • Bans officers from shooting at moving vehicles in all situations.
  • Requires comprehensive reporting by officers each time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians.

“The last few months, the Tempe Police Department has taken a microscope to its use-of-force policy,” Woods said. “Our city had some of these in place, but I’m pleased to report that Tempe now has implemented all eight of these policies.

“These are common-sense solutions that protect all of our residents and support our Tempe police officers alike. It is imperative that we move forward together. I fully believe that you can support public safety and also see the need to evaluate policies and practices for continuous improvement.”

Woods created the public-safety task force in October in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer last May and a number of use-of-force incidents by White Tempe officers against people of color. It rocked the nation, all the way to Tempe, where protestors took to the streets calling for social justice. Tempe residents had been coming to City Council meetings and demonstrating outside meetings for months prior to Floyd’s death.

The task force’s mission is to look at ways that TPD can to build trust, accountability and dialogue with the community and how it can better engage with Black, indigenous people of color, vulnerable youth, LGBTQ-plus community, people experiencing homelessness, those with mental-health challenges and other underrepresented groups.

“As a result of the task force, we are considering substantial changes to the way we respond to emergencies and calls for service,” Woods said. “Not every call may require an armed officer. Some calls may not require a police officer at all. Some may be better served by trained mental-health specialists. The determination of who is sent to an address may start at a reimagined 9-1-1.

“There are also measures to help ensure that our Tempe police officers are supported with the mental and physical resources that they need to stay healthy. They have exceptionally challenging jobs and we want to make sure that were proactive in assisting them.”

Woods said that he looks forward to seeing the final report and what the panel’s recommendations are.

“I think it’s going to lead to some very interesting, forward-thinking recommendations, so I’m excited about getting … something in writing,” Woods said. “I would add that we have not waited for the report to get written to get started. There are things outside of the task force that are connected.

“Besides our Eight Can’t Wait, recently Tempe decided to take a new approach toward park security. We’re taking a much more human-services, forward-centric viewpoint. For people in the park experiencing drug or alcohol issues or mental-health challenges, perhaps it is best if their first contact instead of being with a police officer is with a mental-health professional.”

The task force has taken long looks at de-escalation, training, use of force, recruiting, retention and mental health within the Police Department.

“There have been a whole lot of discussions within the task force,” Woods said. “The tone has been let’s try to right-size things.”

Last June, when Tempe City Council moved forward in the 2020-21 fiscal budget with full funding of $97 million for the Police Department, officers in riot gear greeted several-hundred marchers outside City Hall after their half-mile trek in triple-digit heat from Tempe Beach Park. They advocated defunding the department.

Recent high-profile incidents of use-of-force by Tempe PD include the fatal shooting of 14-year-old Antonio Arce, who was running away from an officer; the Tasering of Ivaughn Oakry, as he was holding an infant; and in August, Officer Ronald Kerzaya, who had been involved in the Oakry incident, was accused of holding a Black hotel employee at gunpoint while supposedly looking for a White suspect.

Jeff Glover, who retired in February as a commander after 20 years with the department, was named interim chief in September, a week after chief Sylvia Moir agreed to resign. Glover is Tempe’s first Black police chief.

More information: tempe.gov/publicsafetyadvisorytaskforce.

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