The Phoenix Police Department will train officers to track when they point their guns at people as the agency works to increase trust and transparency after a record number of shootings last year and national outrage over a cellphone video showing officers cursing and aiming guns at a black family.
The department said Friday the new policy was recommended by the National Police Foundation, which found Phoenix had 44 officer-involved shootings last year, more than any other U.S. department. Of those, 23 were fatal.
A separate database that tracks fatal shootings by police showed Phoenix officers also killed more people than any other agency in 2018. The city is now the nation’s fifth largest, with about 1.6 million people.
Residents’ distrust of the police, especially in African American and Hispanic communities, grew deeper in June when cellphone video emerged showing officers pointing guns when they confronted an unarmed black couple with two small children they suspected of shoplifting.
The couple said their 4-year-old daughter took a doll from a store without their knowledge and rejected police suggestions they stole, too. No charges were filed. The couple has filed a $10 million legal claim against the city, alleging civil rights violations.
Police departments in Phoenix and a handful of other cities also are investigating a database that appears to catalog thousands of social media posts by active-duty and former officers disparaging Muslims, black people, transgender people and others.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, a black woman, has called the postings “embarrassing and disturbing.”
Training in the new policy to track when officers point their guns begins Monday and the policy takes effect Aug. 19.
Sgt. Vince Lewis said the policy aims to help record the number of times officers are successful in deescalating encounters as officers document each time they point their service weapons at people while on the job.
The Phoenix Police Department says it joins many other agencies around Arizona and in major U.S. cities that have already embraced the practice.
The department also has recently updated its records management system to increase transparency and has speeded up the rollout of body worn cameras, with 2,000 recently deployed. It also has been meeting with community members to improve relations.
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