Arizona bill to shield IDs in police shootings advances
Alexa N. D’Angelo, The Arizona Republic
PHOENIX — A Senate subcommittee passed a bill Wednesday that would prohibit police from releasing the names of officers involved in police shootings until three months after the shooting, despite great opposition from the public.
Senate Bill 1445 would prohibit law-enforcement agencies across the state from disclosing the names of officers involved in deadly or excessive use of force incidents for 90 days, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa. Smith also said that if an officer is found to be guilty of violating department policy or state law, the proposed law would become void. An officer may also give permission for his or her name to be released prior to the 90 days.
Police shootings typically set into motion parallel investigations that can take months: one investigation into whether a crime was committed, and another to determine whether the use of force was in or outside of department policy.
“This bill is not meant to withhold information from the media or the public,” Smith said. “It is simply meant to protect the officers and the families of those officers.”
About a dozen people spoke about the bill in the hearing Wednesday, with only two — a sheriff’s deputy and a city councilman — in favor of the bill.
Heated and emotional arguments between the senators and the public occurred more than once during the hearing.
Smith repeatedly mentioned instances in Pinal County and Phoenix in which there were officer-involved shootings that resulted in threats being made to the officers and their families.
Pinal County Chief Deputy Steve Henry was in support of the bill Wednesday and said he thinks the public needs a “cooling off” period after officer-involved shootings. Henry said a Pinal County sheriff’s deputy who was subjected to mean-spirited social-media posts after an officer-involved shooting drove Henry to that conclusion.
“There are no secrets anymore,” Henry said. “We are in a difficult position with social media.”
Community member Muwwakkil Qawwee said he was opposed to the bill because it would only increase the disconnect and lack of trust between law enforcement and the public.
“We are allowing the potentially guilty to become untouchable,” Qawwee said. “I don’t know what we could do, but we could figure out something to not further a rift between law enforcement and the public.
“This bill would have officers being held to a different standard than the rest of the public,” he said.
Sen. John Kavanagh R-Fountain Hills, voted in favor of the bill Wednesday and said the bill was about the balance between officer’s safety and the public’s right to know.
“Yes, there would be a delay in information,” said Kavanagh, a former New York-area police officer. “But nobody would be dead.”
Many who were opposed to the legislation pointed out that few if any officers involved in shootings had been subject to attacks or assaults after the incidents.
Smith posed the same question to all who spoke in opposition of the bill: “Should we wait for an officer to die to do something?”
Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, who attended the hearing to speak out against the legislation, said the bill would serve as a “heating up” period while the public waited to learn details of the officers involved in shootings.
“It’s bad policy the way it’s written,” Bolding said. “Imagine the victim’s family not knowing who killed their father or son or whoever for three months. It’s classifying certain individuals over other individuals.”
The Arizona Senate Committee on Public Safety, Military and Technology passed the bill 3-1 with Smith, Kavanagh and Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, voting in favor of the bill. Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, opposed. Two members of the committee were not present for the vote.
“We need to look at this from all parts,” Contreras said. “We have to protect everyone.”
“I think there are too many loopholes in this bill.”