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Bipartisan bill would set up Arizona task force to investigate police use-of-force

A bipartisan measure to create a new division inside the Arizona Department of Public Safety that would investigate use-of-force incidents and criminal misconduct by police officers won unanimous support in a legislative committee Monday afternoon.

House Bill 2650, sponsored by Rep. Rusty Bowers, the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, is similar to a measure proposed last year by Reginald Bolding, a Phoenix Democrat and the Democratic leader. That bill cleared a committee hearing, but Bowers never scheduled it for debate by the full House. Bolding's measure would have had a county attorney or the attorney general conduct the investigation instead.

The bill seeks $25 million to create the Critical Incident Bureau within DPS. Arizona law enforcement agencies would have to utilize the Critical Incident Bureau, a regional law enforcement task force or an outside law enforcement agency to investigate any use of force within the state.

At a press conference about the bill Monday morning, Bowers said the bill will "lead to one of the largest reforms in the state of Arizona.

Bowers said he was approached by members of law enforcement in April 2021 and started a working group with Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone and other law enforcement leaders to discuss the issue.

"This is an example, in my opinion, of how legislation that specifically affects a profession should be conducted and initiated," Penzone said at the media briefing.

Bowers said the bill is not an attempt to pre-empt civilian oversight boards that investigate police use of force incidents, like the one recently established by the City of Phoenix. Penzone said that investigations by similar investigatory bodies would "run parallel" and could share information, stressing that the bill is focusing on criminal investigations of police use of force, not internal investigations or administrative investigations.

When the bill was taken up by the House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee a few hours later, Bowers stressed that the bill is about restoring trust in police and restoring "street cred" for police.

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"The driver for this and for similar efforts earlier is to address the community the credibility of law enforcement in these critical and very quickly developing incidents for law enforcement and citizens," Bowers told the committee. "If they're seen to be a good ol' boys network…they want to address it straight up."

Gilbert Police Chief Michael Soelberg, who also serves as president of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, cited an Arizona State University Morrison Institute survey as part of the rationale for supporting Bowers' bill. The survey found that those questioned felt that a statewide task force or a task force made up of several agencies was better than an agency investigating itself and would give them more confidence in the agency.

Soelberg, Penzone and others also cited the survey's finding that 60% of respondents said they trusted police. The same survey also found that far fewer Black and Hispanic respondents said they trusted police, with Black respondents having the lowest trust of police.

The only objections to the legislation in committee had to do with the appropriation.

Jeff Hawkins, president of the Arizona State Troopers Association, told the committee that the $25 million may not be enough.

"We don't have office space to put these folks," Hawkins said, adding that they'd also need to figure out equipment and other expenses.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he wasn't too concerned about the cost, as he believes many agencies will opt to have a neighboring police department conduct investigations instead of utilizing DPS. And although Bowers said he is not aiming to take down civilian review boards, Kavanagh said he hopes the bill will make Phoenix "reconsider" their civilian review board.

The bill passed unanimously out of the committee and will head to the floor next for consideration by the full House of Representatives.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy /Arizona Mirror

Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, speaks in front of a group of law enforcement about House Bill 2650, which would create a division in the Arizona Department of Public Safety to investigate use-of-force incidents involving police.

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