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Phoenix Council Debates Moving Money From Police Oversight To Homeless Services

By Christina Estes, Mark Brodie
Published: Thursday, February 18, 2021 - 12:18pm
Updated: Friday, February 19, 2021 - 10:54am

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Phoenix police headquarters
Christina Estes/KJZZ
The front entrance at Phoenix police headquarters.

During Wednesday's council meeting, Phoenix leaders again debated the Office of Accountability and Transparency as they voted on whether to redirect the money to fund more homeless services. KJZZ's Christina Estes shared what happened with The Show's Mark Brodie.

MARK BRODIE: Pitting one group against another — that’s how some Phoenix residents viewed an item on the latest city council agenda. During yesterday’s meeting, members were asked to redirect $3 million set aside for a new office focused on police accountability to instead go to homeless services. As she often does, KJZZ’s Christina Estes followed the meeting and joins me now to talk about it. Hi there, Christina.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Good morning, Mark.

BRODIE: So how did this request come about?

ESTES: Well, a couple weeks ago you and I talked about a zoning request the council approved to add shelter beds to the Human Services Campus near downtown. That process took two years and generated a lot of input from homeless service providers, business owners and residents. And it created widespread recognition about the problem along with some momentum to do more to address homelessness.

BRODIE: So who suggested moving the money, and why did they make that suggestion?

ESTES: Three council members — Vice Mayor Thelda Williams and councilmen Sal DiCiccio and Jim Waring requested the $3 million budgeted for the Office of Accountability and Transparency be spent on services provided at the Human Services Campus. Their initial request was for money to be redirected this fiscal year as well as future years. But in light of recent negative reporting involving police, Williams changed the request during the meeting.

BRODIE: Yeah, that negative reporting is something we discussed here on The Show with ABC15’s Dave Biscobing. He had originally reported on the so-called "challenge coins" featuring a slogan with ties to neo-Nazis that were allegedly shared by some officers to commemorate inuring a protestor. That reporting was picked up by other local and national media outlets and led the city manager to hire an outside law firm to investigate.

ESTES: Right. And those stories led Williams to change the request to move the money this fiscal year only. She also asked that half a million go to the city manager to address police training and operations.

BRODIE: Right. And the city manager, Ed Zuercher, had issued a strong statement following news of the challenge coins, saying the police department has deep rooted issues and is going to change, and that he and the police chief demand it. 

ESTES: Yes, and those words were brought up during public comment as some people called on the council to fire the city manager and the police chief, Jeri Williams. They pointed out other issues — like the Plain View Project that released a national database in 2019 that showed officers across the country condoning violence and posting racist and other offensive statements on Facebook. That database included dozens of current and former Phoenix officers.

BRODIE: And of course, Christina, we’ve also reported on the city’s record number of police shootings in 2018. That also garnered national attention.  

ESTES: Right, And so all those things led some residents to fight to get the council to approve and fund the Office of Accountability and Transparency last year. But the council has been unable to determine the office’s responsibilities, so the money is sitting there. And that’s what led to yesterday’s request by three councilmembers — councilmembers that I should point out have consistently been against the Office of Accountability and Transparency.

BRODIE: Now Christina, you said the latest controversy surrounding Phoenix Police led Vice Mayor Williams to change her request. Did it change her opinion or anyone else’s?

ESTES: Well, it didn’t sound like it. I’m going to play two clips for you. First is Councilmember Carlos Garcia — he took office about a year and a half ago, he ran on a platform of police accountability and transparency. And then you’ll hear from Vice Mayor Thelda Williams. She served on the council from 1989 to 1996 and then was re-elected in 2015.

CARLOS GARCIA: There’s a tone deafness, and there’s an inability for you to understand what people of color and people that live in districts that aren’t like yours go through every day and what our relationship looks like with the police. And I hope you reflect on that, and I hope — you know, after 30 years, I don’t expect you to change — but I would hope you’d at least understand it.

THELDA WILLIAMS: Even though I have been on the council for 30 years, Mr. Garcia, I am very supportive of public safety, not only officers but the service they provide to the community. I think it’s important to respect their difficult position and recognize that part of my motion was to continue to redevelop and retrain officers so that we change attitudes and practices.

BRODIE: Now Williams’ motion failed by a 6-to-3 vote, but Christina, the council did approve more money for homeless services, right?

ESTES: Yes, that was a different agenda item. The council unanimously approved allocating more federal coronavirus relief funds.

BRODIE: How did it break down?

ESTES: The Human Services Campus which includes CASS, the state’s largest shelter, will get $4 million to add 275 more beds by this summer, along with more security and cleaning around the property. The city also approved $14 million to improve shelters or fund a new one.

BRODIE: All right. That it KJZZ’s Christina Estes. Christina, as always, thank you.

ESTES: You’re welcome.

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