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KOLD Investigates Policing the Police: Pima County Sheriff’s Department builds civilian oversight committee

Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 8:17 PM MST|Updated: Sep. 13, 2021 at 10:29 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Pima County Sheriff’s Department does not have a civilian oversight review board, but Sheriff Chris Nanos said that’s about to change.

Nanos is in the process of creating a board made up of community members who will provide feedback on everything from department policies to officer-involved shootings.

Dr. Damond T. Holt will be the chairperson of that board, and is actively recruiting members.

“Now is the time for us not to be talking about it, but being about it and not just making complaints, but being solutions-driven to make our village a little bit better,” Holt said.

Holt said he hopes this board will help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community.

“I have blue in my family. I have blue in my family and they are black. That brings a whole other phenomenon. You can address bad behavior, even racism and racial discrimination and still support police. I don’t think we need to be either or, I don’t think we have to pick sides,” Holt said.

Holt said he has recruited about 10 candidates so far, but hopes the board will grow to about 20 members.

“The only reason why I took this task is because I don’t want a cherry-picked type of board,” Holt said. “We want every aspect of the community to be represented in regard to race, ethnicity, to sexual orientation, to gender, you name it, but also different walks of life who look at law enforcement from a different lens to make sure every part of our blind spots are being covered,” Holt said.

This move comes as Gov. Doug Ducey signed off on House Bill 2898, which outlines new requirements for the civilian oversight review boards.

The law will require members of these boards to receive 80 hours of law enforcement training in areas including use-of-force, de-escalation, body-worn cameras, in-custody deaths, criminal and administrative investigations and representative due process and simulated event law enforcement training.

It is required training Nanos said he had already planned on providing.

“If you are going to judge someone on what it is they are doing, I can’t tell you if you are doing a good job or a bad job if I don’t know what your job is,” Nanos said.

While Nanos said the training is reasonable, he does not think the state should be involved in issuing mandates like this one.

Holt agrees.

“It was kind of oversight of the oversight board. We have factors that don’t like community being a part of policing the police. Any type of tactic, legislation that will make it a little bit more difficult for people to come on these oversight boards is most definitely is a strategy,” Holt said.

This recently passed legislation also changes the make-up of certain civilian review boards.

The law states if the board determines the “initial level of discipline or has the authority to increase the severity of the disciplinary action” then the majority of the board needs to be made up of law enforcement officers from the same department.

“Arizona might be the only state whose legislature came out of the murder of George Floyd with laws to make it harder to hold police officers accountable,” said Jared Keenan, a Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Arizona.

Keenan argues this law takes the civilian out of civilian review boards.

“The officers tasked with doing this investigation are co-workers and have worked side by side with this officer being investigated for years, months, decades even,” Keenan said.

Holt is disappointed with the legislation as well.

“They don’t mind you having a say, they just don’t want you to have a strong say. They water the advisory piece down a bit through a strategic move to discourage and to also dismantle civilian oversight throughout our state,” Holt said.

Nanos said the board will not have disciplinary power, and therefore can still be made up entirely of civilians, though they will have to receive that 80 hours of training.

“If we put them in the middle of the investigation, they could become part of that investigation and could be put in a position where they would be subpoenaed and have to testify in court,” Nanos said.

Nanos said he wants the board to provide feedback in areas like policies, training, in-custody deaths and officer-involved shootings.

“One thing I can say about Sheriff Nanos is he is a trailblazer. I would say he is going in the right direction of where we need to go,” Hold said.

Despite the controversy over the state law, Holt wants people to participate.

“We know police have done a horrible job of policing themselves. This is the reason why we have oversight committees,” Hold said. “This is why we are demanding integrity and transparency so that we can be involved and the community, which pays the salaries of our agencies. We want to make sure our communities are safe. Police officers are not soldiers in our communities, but guardians in our communities.”

If you are interested in serving on the Pima County Sheriff’s Department Civilian Oversight Committee, email Holt at damond.holt@sheriff.pima.gov.

The controversy over the training requirement may play out in the courtroom.

The City of Tucson joined the City of Phoenix in suing the state over this legislation.

They claim lawmakers included provisions that violate Arizona’s single subject and budget appropriations requirement.

KOLD News 13 will continue to follow the latest in this litigation.

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