It is now up to Gov. Doug Ducey whether Arizonans will be denied for 60 days the names of police officers who kill civilians.
On a 20-8 vote the Senate on Tuesday gave final approval to legislation creating a special exception from laws that generally require public agencies, including police departments, to make information available on request. The measure already passed the House on a 44-13 margin.
There is no immediate indication of what Ducey will do.
“We’re reviewing the legislation,” said Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s press aide.
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, a former police officer, said the 60-day delay provides a cooling off period.
“Until we can get the facts straight, we need to shield those police officers and their families from being assassinated by lunatics or political zealots,” he said. “This bill very simply conceals that name until the facts can come out so we don’t have a dead cop, a dead cop’s spouse or a dead cop’s child.”
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said his concern is not when the evidence is clear that an officer was justified in killing someone. The issue, he said are those “gray areas,” where an officer has taken a life — especially when the victim is a different race than the officer.
“It’s those situations where the suspect is not completely right but not completely wrong either,” Quezada said, where an officer might have felt threatened “but he jumped a little too far in that continuum of force, he acted a little too quickly.”
“It’s those gray areas where I think that the public and we as leaders in the community have an obligation to vocalize and to talk about these situations and to say that these are situations that are indeed heavily influenced by race and ethnicity,” he said.
Quezada said there is “a justifiable distrust between communities of color and law enforcement,” what with concerns about profiling by police. What’s worse, he said, is “a general refusal to acknowledge that a lot of these influences, how much of an impact they have on these types of situations.”
“We have the obligation to stand up, be vocal and be angry about these situations where a life is taken, and where that life didn’t necessarily have to be taken,” he said. “We have a right to demand answers, to demand accountability.”
Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said nothing in SB 1445, blocking the release of an officer’s name and photograph, affects that.
“This bill is silent on your right to demand those answers or your right to be angry,” he said.
“You can be angry, you can demand, you can hold protests, you can do whatever you’d like,” Smith continued. “The only thing we are saying is, in some cases … the name and the photo can be withheld for safety reasons.”
And Smith said the legislation does not block the immediate release of information about the police officer’s own history of similar incidents.
Kavanagh cited the disturbances in Ferguson, Mo., following the shooting of a black man there, saying it was later determined the officer did nothing wrong. Kavanagh, however, made no mention of the findings of the U.S. Department of Justice that found a pattern of civil rights violations by the police department there.
Smith said the issue is even closer to home, pointing to incidents involving threats against a Pinal County sheriff’s deputy and a Phoenix police officer after their names were released following shootings.
The key, Quezada said, is the lack of trust between some communities and police.
“It’s not something that happens overnight,” he told colleagues.
“It takes years, it takes lots of effort to establish that trust,” Quezada said. “And we’re not quite there yet.”
But Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said he errs on the side of protecting the police officer and withholding information until more is known about the incident.
“This prevents gasoline from being thrown on a fire,” he said.