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Committee considers causes of cops shooting suspects

Two Phoenix City Council members at a special legislative hearing on police-involved shootings blamed an uptick in those cases on low police staffing levels and the lack of respect youths have for police officers.

Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski argued that the 31 Phoenix police-involved shooting in 2013, the highest number in a decade, can be traced back to a lack of respect for law enforcement.

“It’s incredible, it’s like a sub-culture that’s being created,” Nowakowski said. “I’m not sure if it’s through the media, or if it’s through the schools or what. But there’s not that respect for police officers anymore. People are even cussing or cursing at officers, little 12-year-olds to high school students (with) a lack of respect.”

Nowakowski said young people’s disrespect for law enforcement leads into dangerous situations where police have no choice but to shoot in self-defense. He said educating the youth to respect cops — such as programs like “Coffee With a Cop,” which the Phoenix Police Department uses to gather data on drug houses and gangs in neighborhoods — could help cut down on the number of cases where police shoot suspects.

Nowakowski said repeat violent offenders, often very young people, are the ones who end up being shot by police.

“As state elected officials, I think one of the things you need to look at is, when we release somebody from jail, how do we trace those individuals? How do we keep a tab on those individuals? And how are these individuals actually purchasing guns?” Nowakowski asked.

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DeCiccio said one thing that would cut down on the number of cases where police shoot suspects is having more police. Although that’s a local issue, and cities pay for their own local cops, DeCiccio argued that the state could require more transparency in local budgeting.

“If you look at the city of Phoenix last year, the city opened up three urban gardens, spent over $650,000 to study garbage. It’s still putting together a plan to put bicycles in downtown Phoenix for bike sharing. But there is not plan in place to hire more police officers,” DeCiccio said.

The two councilmembers made the remarks at a special meeting of the Public Safety Military and Regulatory Affairs Committee on April 2. The committee chair, Republican Rep. Justin Pierce of Mesa, said he held the meeting after he was approached by several people and asked to talk about the issue of increased officer-involved shootings.

No representatives from organizations representing victims of police shootings were present.

Besides the city council members, the committee heard from police officers and members of the police unions.

Phoenix Police Department Sgt. Trent Crump, a spokesman for the department, told the committee that the number of Phoenix police shootings ranges in the high 20s to the low teens — and it is difficult to determine why some years are higher than others.

“We’re not in the business of breaking down and evaluating some of these reasons why (officer-involved shootings happen),” he said.

Crump noted that assaults on police officers have also grown in recent years, stating that in 2011, 875 officers were assaulted. In 2013, 1,027 officers were assaulted.

Pierce said the point of the committee meeting was to figure out how to cut down officer-involved shootings, especially given the recent spike in shootings.

“I’m tired of hearing about officer-involved shootings,” Pierce said. “I think the public is, too. Every time I turn around, there’s a shooting. What is the cause? I’m sure there are cases where the officer shouldn’t have shot… But we need to figure out how to avoid those.”

He said training officers not to shoot first and ask questions later wasn’t part of the discussion because that is a local issue, and not something the state has dominion over.

“I’m starting from the presumption that they’re being trained properly… I really don’t think it’s an issue of training,” he said.

By the Numbers

Number of Phoenix Police officer-involved shootings per year
2003 13
2004 26
2005 19
2006 22
2007 22
2008 26
2009 14
2010 18
2011 20
2012 18
2013 31

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