Council and Community Collide Over Police Accountability Efforts
Opinions clashed over the future of Phoenix’s Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT) during a city council meeting last week. In the Oct. 13 policy session, Councilman Sal DiCiccio received backlash from other members of the council and community for requesting that new OAT staff be ineligible for employment if they have previously engaged in activism.
According to the current outline, OAT’s goal is to provide independent, mandatory investigations that hold Phoenix police officers accountable for shootings, in-custody deaths and serious bodily injuries. Full funding for OAT was approved by the city council in June, but the details remain unclear as to how the office will be staffed. As it stands, the current policy would not allow for onboarding employees who have current or previous involvement in law enforcement.
“What happened to the conversation about individuals that were involved in activism, what I consider to be anti-police activity?” asked DiCiccio. “Why is that not included in this or can we include that as well?”
City of Phoenix Assistant Chief Counsel Julie Kriegh, responded by saying the law department would need to further discuss how to define activism. She also began to explain how the First Amendment might make this requirement difficult, but was unapologetically interrupted by DiCiccio before she could finish.
“It’s not about free speech,” he interjected. “It’s about the vetting process you would require. It has nothing to do with free speech. It has a lot to do with the fact that people come in with their natural biases and you don’t want to put people in there that are going to be biased against the police if you want a clean system. You can look at their Facebook accounts. You can look at quite a few other things. Were they involved in activism against the police officers?”
Councilman Carlos Garcia disagreed and claimed that DiCiccio essentially wants to make a list of activists and then deem them ineligible for city employment.
“I said last time I wasn’t going to entertain Councilman DiCiccio because I know what he is trying to do,” said Garcia. “He said so in his social media and he’s doing it now. He’s trying to derail this process.”
On Twitter, DiCiccio often shows his support for increasing the size of the Phoenix Police Department by using hashtags such as #BackTheBlue. On Oct. 15, he posted results from a poll of 900 registered Phoenix voters which stated that 55 percent of residents thought the city would be safer with more police. The tweet read, “Politicians need to stop pandering to a bunch of twits on Twitter and start hearing the voice of our citizens. It's pretty clear if you take the plugs out of your ears: WE WANT MORE COPS!”
Mayor Kate Gallego expressed a similar opinion as Garcia on the topic of activism.
“I for one think that if someone was arrested protesting the Iraq war, we shouldn’t say you can’t be eligible for City of Phoenix employment,” said Gallego.
On the contrary, Councilman Jim Waring suggested that any previous arrests by the Phoenix Police Department might discredit a future employee of OAT.
“I do think that if you’ve been arrested, that may also leave a less than positive impression,” said Waring. “Either way that could be an issue. Is that something that could be addressed? That’s not a delaying tactic or anything else. That’s just, if we’re going to go on one side with no police, I’d like to see something to balance it out on the other.”
The majority of community members who called during the virtual meeting, disagreed with DiCiccio and said those impacted by police brutality should also have a voice at OAT. Local resident Katy Vega said for her, activism was not a choice but rather a reaction to the killing of her brother by a Phoenix police officer. Councilman Garia asked Vega how she would feel if she, or members of her family, couldn’t work for OAT.
“I’ll tell you exactly how I feel,” said Vega. “Because I felt it as Councilman DiCiccio was speaking. We had no choice in becoming active because without becoming an activist and without fighting for my brother's character, and fighting for quote on quote justice, nothing gets done apparently. We have been forced to become activists and that should not be held against us.”
Another member of the community, Ann Ander began her two minutes of public comment by thanking DiCiccio and Waring for their remarks. Ander said there is no proof that the broader community does not trust the Phoenix Police Department and asked if former and retired members of the military would also be ineligible for employment at OAT.
“If you don’t have people that have some background and understanding of what the task is going to be in front of them, to me it’s similar to a medication or medical procedure being denied coverage by a person who has a bachelor’s degree in business,” said Ander. “So for that reason, and with all due respect to the city and to the council, I believe that this needs to be removed from the city’s jurisdiction and placed on a citizen ballot for the public to decide.”
Phoenix City Council will continue to discuss plans for OAT in both private and public meetings. The Oct.13 policy session can be found on YouTube here. For more information on upcoming meetings and guidelines for making public comments, visit www.phoenix.gov.