By Alexander Lomax
In what could be well described as a bombshell, the Department of Justice announced the beginning of an investigation into the Phoenix Police Department over allegations of brutality against numerous different groups, including protestors, the homeless, and minorities.
Mayor Kate Gallego released a statement of general support, while also touting attempts at increased transparency that have occurred at City Council during her tenure as Mayor. Earlier this year, the Office of Accountability and Transparency was set up; it was a result of the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, as activists and Councilman Carlos Garcia pressed the council to do more to ensure civil rights.
This has not happened without some cause, as the Phoenix PD has found itself enveloped in controversy over the last few years. They created a commemorative coin after they shot a protestor in the groin. One police officer was caught on tape roughing up a homeless man. The department has paid out $26 million in settlements over excessive force in the last decade. And several high profile cases have made headlines over the last few years. And as is often the case in the insular world of law enforcement, there are often not sufficient controls to ensure that “bad cops” are effectively disciplined and prevented from causing further instances of malfeasance.
These are all serious concerns that have been brought up by community activists, which have then turned the issue into a political football. In the wake of George Floyd, strong political lines have been drawn. A fundamental aspect of the two parties in 2021 is that Democrats stand for social justice, and Republicans stand for law and order. This move by the DOJ will only further codify that.
It seems evident that there are serious and legitimate concerns with the culture in the Phoenix Police Department. However, will this move actually help change the culture, or cause them to dig in their heels and create an even stronger “us vs. them” dynamic? I tend to think it’s the latter. While investigations and discovery are crucial, I can’t bring myself to believe that this will lead to a fundamental culture shift, which is what will be necessary to change behavior and increase accountability from within.
Having an extra set of eyes on the department and learning more from the inside will be useful and important. But in what will almost certainly be seen as further politicizing a political hot potato, it’s tough to see any other outcome other than each political side digging deeper trenches for later battles.