Data Show Suspects' Treatment in Phoenix Depends on Race

Justice Department releases report examining police department
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 13, 2024 6:35 PM CDT
US Report: Excessive Force, Bias Prevalent in Phoenix Police
Darrell Kriplean, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which represents about 2,200 Phoenix officers, takes a question after the release of a Department of Justice report on the Phoenix Police department during a news conference on Thursday in Phoenix.   (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Phoenix police discriminate against Black, Hispanic, and Native American people, unlawfully detain homeless people and use excessive force, including unjustified deadly force, according to a sweeping federal civil rights investigation of law enforcement in the nation's fifth-largest city. The US Justice Department report released Thursday says investigators found stark racial disparities in how officers in the Phoenix Police Department enforce certain laws, including low-level drug and traffic offenses, the AP reports. Investigators found that Phoenix officers shoot at people who do not pose an imminent threat, fire their weapons after any threat has been eliminated, and routinely delay medical care for people injured in encounters with officers.

There is "overwhelming statistical evidence" that the racial disparities are due to discrimination, the Justice Department said. It cited examples including:

  • Traffic offenses: Black people in the city are over 3.5 times more likely than white people to be cited or arrested for not signaling before turning, the report says. Hispanic drivers are more than 50% more likely than white drivers to be cited or arrested for speeding near school zone cameras.
  • Alcohol offenses: Native American people are more than 44 times more likely than white people—on a per capita basis—to be cited or arrested for possessing and consuming alcohol.
  • Drug cases: Officers investigating drug-related offenses were 27% more likely to release white people in 30 minutes or less, but Native Americans accused of the same offense were detained longer, the report said.
The report does not mention whether the federal government is pursuing a court-enforced reform plan known as a consent decree—an often costly and lengthy process.

Police officials didn't immediately comment on the report. Mayor Kate Gallego said in a statement that city officials would meet June 25 to get legal advice and discuss next steps. A top police union official called the Justice Department investigation a "farce." Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who leads the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, criticized Phoenix for "over-policing" homeless people, including arrests without reasonable suspicion of a crime. More than a third of misdemeanor arrests and citations were of homeless people, the report says. A Phoenix group that advocates for people of color and workers said the findings were no surprise. "We never needed a DOJ investigation to tell us this," Poder In Action said in a statement. "The data and the stories from residents have been telling us this for years." (More Phoenix stories.)

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