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Sen. Smith sponsors bill to keep names of officers secret

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An Arizona senator has agreed to sponsor a bill that would keep the names of officers who fire their weapons a secret for 90 days after a shooting.

The legislation, pushed by the Arizona Police Association and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, would implement a mandatory 90-day waiting period before a law enforcement agency in Arizona can divulge the name of an officer who fired his or her weapon to the public.

The bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Smith, SB1445, makes several changes to what was initially proposed at the Capitol by unions.  The scope of the bill has been narrowed so it would apply only when an injury or death occurs, rather than in all police-involved shootings.

Union officials have argued for the measure in the interest of officers’ safety, and have cited police incidents in Ferguson, Mo., and New York last year as cases in which public tension with the police have run high, creating a potentially dangerous scenario in which an officer may be harmed as retaliation for an officer-involved shooting.

Neither union officials nor their lobbyist at the Capitol could point to an instance when an officer in Arizona involved in a fatal shooting was harmed as retaliation.

Smith said time should be given to settle whether or not the use of deadly force by an officer was justified. All relevant information about the case should be available before a law enforcement officer is convicted in the court of public opinion, the Maricopa City lawmaker said.

Earlier, Smith had suggested withholding the names of officers until the county attorney in which a shooting took place determined if the use of deadly force was justified – a timetable that likely would have resulted in a much longer wait than the 90 days outlined in Smith’s bill. Investigations and determinations in use of deadly force cases are typically completed within six months, according to Maricopa County Attorney’s Office officials.

Under SB1445, an officer’s right to have his or her name withheld would be void if the officer was arrested or formally charged for action related to the incident; if a criminal investigation of the incident is complete within 90 days; the officer consents, in writing, to have his or her name released; or if a court requires the release.

Smith said he plans to offer an amendment to strip from the bill a section that would allow a law enforcement agency to ignore public records requests for an officer’s name if the request was older than 30 days – essentially requiring the public to submit new requests every 30 days.

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