Phoenix Police use of force is getting a closer look, so how’s it going?

It's been just over a year since the new director took over the police accountability agency and he said progress is being made for transparency.
Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 6:06 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Phoenix’s Office of Accountability and Transparency director has been on the job for a year and two months. Roger Smith was brought on to help oversee internal investigations for some of the police department’s cases. The Office of Accountability and Transparency, or OAT, was created in May 2021 in response to an announcement of a Department of Justice investigation and for how they handled protesters the year prior. City leaders specifically tasked OAT to look at officer-involved shootings and death and serious injuries in police custody. The agency was supposed to investigate those internal cases but the state Legislature intervened, changing its role to monitoring such cases.

Arizona’s Family Investigates asked Smith how he hopes his reports will be used. “To inform the process, to identify things that make the process more reliable,” he responded. Smith said the process begins with a formal notification process. They have to notify Phoenix Police Chief Michael Sullivan and city manager Jeff Barton that they’ll be reviewing a case. Next is the turnover of information, including interviews, records and videos. OAT monitors the administrative investigation. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office handles the criminal side. “We’re in the process now of getting a memorandum of understanding that will govern the information sharing with our agency and the department, and specifically what information we’re getting in the course of our monitoring,” Smith said.

Smith said he’s close to reaching an agreement with the police. He’s also focused on hiring. Right now, the office has six employees – him, two community engagement officers, a researcher, an executive assistant and a director of mediation. None of them are monitors. He plans to hire seven more staffers by April.

Arizona’s Family Investigates asked, after seeing Phoenix police in action, if he had any concerns. “Well, it’s pretty early, the first cases we started to monitor took place in September,” he responded.

Smith also said he’s spoken with the DOJ. “DOJ is here, we are aware of that. We know of that, but in terms of how it effects our day to day operation it really doesn’t,” he said. “I’ve had several conversations with DOJ … they’re basically looking to me for information in the way they look to the Phoenix community in general. You know they want to know things about my experience, what I’m seeing. Also they’re interested in some of the work I’ve done previously and how what I’m seeing now compares to that,” he continued.

Smith said he’s had several conversations with the new police chief Sullivan and as the department reviews its use of force policy, Smith said he’s shared his thoughts. “I am interested in seeing the important issues get to the table and the conversation … I think it’s beginning to happen,” he said. Smith explained he’s been focused on getting the right frameworks in place, developing protocols and hiring the right, experienced people for those positions. As part of the job, he’ll have to make an annual report of their work to the City Council next month.