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Phoenix PD, Union Already Complaining About DOJ Consent Decree That Hasn’t Even Been Served Yet

DATE POSTED:July 9, 2024

As all DOJ investigations of law enforcement agencies are, the one targeting the Phoenix, Arizona Police Department was scathing in its assessment of the department’s officers and tactics.

It led off with this, before providing graphic details covering everything from routine abuse of force to unchecked biased policing that led the DOJ to conclude “PhxPD uses race or national origin as a factor” when enforcing everything from traffic laws to quality-of-life statutes.

Officers use unreasonable force to rapidly dominate encounters, often within the first few moments of an encounter. Officers fail to employ basic strategies to avoid force, like verbal de-escalation or using time or distance to slow things down. PhxPD’s training has encouraged officers to use force when it is not lawful to do so, and to use serious force to respond to hypothetical, not actual, danger.

Also covered in the report: officers turning off body cameras, officers caught on camera conjuring up probable cause for an arrest, officers beating/tasing/shooting compliant and, in far too many cases, handcuffed individuals.

And, like every DOJ investigation of a law enforcement agency, the Phoenix PD brought this on itself. It could have policed itself, but it chose instead to take the path of least resistance, allowing officers to indulge their worst urges and biases until the DOJ was forced to step in.

Now, that it has, the same cops (and the union reps that enable them) are complaining the report is unfair, that any attempt to increase accountability will lead to a mass exodus of officers, and that yet-to-be-submitted consent decree will starve the city of officers and allow the criminal element to run amuck.

These are the words of the self-proclaimed saviors — the “heroes” walking the thin blue line between civility and chaos:

Federal oversight could tank officer retention in the Phoenix Police Department, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association’s survey of 1,186 Phoenix Police officers found that 56% were considering leaving in the next three to six months.

Yep, that’s a bunch of cops threatening to quit because it will be slightly more difficult to violate rights and get away with it in the future if (and it’s still an “if”) a consent decree is agreed to by the city of Phoenix. These are the words of absolute children who think the best response to additional responsibility is run away from it.

Meanwhile, the president of the union, Darrell Kriplean, has decided the best response is pure delusion.

Essentially, he thinks the DOJ is incapable of holding Phoenix Police accountable for rights violations.

“We should be beholden to our community members and our city council folks that the community elects to oversee our department,” Kriplean said.

He said the Phoenix PD is a self-assessing and self-correcting agency.

I only slightly agree with the first assertion. There have been dozens of DOJ investigations and consent decrees. I can’t think of a single one that has resulted in sustained accountability. As for the rest… if the Phoenix PD was really a “self-correcting agency,” the DOJ would never have opened a civil rights investigation. Kriplean isn’t saying anything credible. He’s just saying what he thinks officers as consumed by self-delusion as him want him to say.

And he closes (at least for the quotes in this report) with another set of outlandish and internally inconsistent claims:

“They’re not out there arresting people because, at any given moment, if someone complains at the handcuffs were too tight, they’re now being pulled into an internal affairs investigation,” Kriplean said. “That’s why violent crime spikes.”

In essence, Kriplean is claiming officers are already engaged in “quiet quitting,” albeit a cop-specific version that means not doing your job at all because you’re no longer interested in working for the Phoenix PD. And they’re apparently doing this ahead of a consent decree that has yet to be put before a judge, city officials, or the PD itself.

Meanwhile, another police union leader in the area was saying vague things about the report and the still-not-inevitable consent decree:

“The Department of Justice, based on their own numbers, has a 30-year track record of totally disastrous failures,” said APA President Justin Harris. “Why bring that into this city?” 

Maybe so. But ask yourself this: were these failures because the DOJ is incompetent? Or were these failures due to law enforcement agencies resolutely refusing to embrace additional accountability and/or decrease the number of civil rights abuses perpetrated by their officers?

At least this report adds this bit, which refutes claims about impending criminal apocalypses made elsewhere by other law enforcement reps and officials:

There is little conclusive evidence that consent decrees cause increases in crime, but research does indicate that they can improve accountability in police departments, and public satisfaction with those departments.

That contradicts the claims often made by police officers and officials anytime there’s more accountability in play. Not that they don’t always return to this talking point, despite the lack of evidence to support their assertions.

And then there’s this talking point, which always seems to rear its head no matter what party controls the White House and who’s heading the DOJ:

“This tactic is nothing more than an irresponsible and unprofessional smear campaign against the men and women who have continued to courageously serve the community amidst dangerous and inflammatory rhetoric by political activists and violent attacks from criminals,” said Kriplean.

Bro, this isn’t an op-ed composed by the Attorney General. This is the outcome of an investigation that lasted more than two years. What’s detailed in the report actually happened. It can’t be a “smear campaign” when it depicts things that occurred and utilizes stats and reports generated by police officers and their enforcement efforts. And while the language in the report is (necessarily) harsh at times, there’s nothing “political” or “inflammatory” about publishing a report on a federal investigation.

I, for one, hope half the department quits. Those walking away from the job just because they’ll have to do better at it don’t deserve to be police officers. If a dearth of officers results in higher crime rates, Phoenix residents need to remember cops walked away from the job because they didn’t want to do if it required respecting constitutional rights. And if the city has trouble attracting replacements, that says far more about the people attracted to law enforcement careers than the specifics of the job itself.