Phoenix Chief of Police comments on increase in officer shootings

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Phoenix Chief of Police Jeri Williams discusses the nine incidents that involved a criminal charging an officer which led to the officer firing their weapon.

“A number of factors are going on,” Williams says. “We have in each of these incidents – eight of them involved firearms, one involved a knife – criminals who are intent on committing violent crimes in the community. It’s been alarming to us.”

Williams says the officers have extensive de-escalation training and crisis intervention team training. They are taught to fire their weapon only when the individual makes the “choice to engage law enforcement in this direction,” Williams says. The chief of police says the question isn’t why there are so many officer shootings, but why are there so many people being non-compliant?

The Phoenix Police Department are currently working with Arizona State University on a research studying the answer to that question. The research is meant to find what the cause and effect of the situations are and why the individuals are non-compliant.

Williams, who’s been in law enforcement for 29 years, has seen how deescalation tactics have increased over the years. She says training has evolved over time because of one major impact – cell phone videos. Everyone records everything at all times now. While the videos only provide a limited perspective on what’s going on, viewers are still quick to make judgement calls on the scenes. The training has changed to evolve with time and new technology.

“No officer wants to be involved in an officer involved shooting. I will say that all day,” Williams says. “The emotional toll it takes on these men and women who are involved in these incidents and the witness officers and the investigators is chilling.”

When an officer is involved in a shooting, they go through a couple different investigations. There’s a criminal investigation that tells whether or not the use of force was justified by the county attorney’s office. Then there’s the administrative investigation that checks if there were any policy or tactical violations.

“The office has to go through that from start to finish when he or she is responding to a choice someone else made to engage in violence,” Williams says. “Fortunately for us, we have a great employee assistance program… This not only rocks the worlds of the officers, but it rocks their families.”

Williams says she wants the public to know that firing a weapon is an officer’s last resort. There’s never any intention from the officer to harm a community member. However, if an officer’s life or another person’s life is threatened by the criminal, the officer is forced to react.

“It is also my job and my responsibility to take care of the emotional, mental and spiritual well-being of my employees,” Williams says. “We hope the community understands that dynamic as well.”

THERE HAVE BEEN NINE OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS THIS YEAR IN PHOENIX AND WE'RE ONLY A FEW MONTHS "INTO" THE YEAR. HERE TO TALK ABOUT WHY THIS IS HAPPENING IS PHOENIX POLICE CHIEF, JERI WILLIAMS.

TED SIMONS-Nine in two and a half months. What's going on out there?

JERI WILLIAMS- A number of factors are going on. In the nine incidents, eight involved a firearm, one involved a knife. These are criminals that are shooting at, pointing guns at attacking officers on the street. It's alarming to us. Why is this happening? There are those in the community intent on committing violent crime.

TED SIMONS-Was lethal force the proper response in each incident?

JERI WILLIAMS-We have not gotten to the result. When you point guns at, shoot at, charge an officer with a knife, you are forcing the reaction from my officers.

TED SIMONS- Is there two sides of the coin here? There are those that say the police are too quick to shoot. How do you respond to that?

TED SIMONS-That's not the case with our department. We are responding to community members making a choice to engage law enforcement officers in this manner. The officer, subject involved and there could have been a couple of officers at the scene, there could be more community members around. It's our job to protect and serve. We respond to those coming at us with deadly force.

TED SIMONS-The other side of the coin, there seems to be an acceptance to use lethal force against police officers. What's going on?

JERI WILLIAMS-It's interesting that you ask that question. It's a question in my brain what is the cause and effect of noncompliance. I think the better question you are asking is why are people noncompliant? We are working with the universe on the research of that study. I don't know why. The intent is there on the part of the suspects.

TED SIMONS- I'm assuming it's part of the training to de-escalate.

JERI WILLIAMS-Absolutely. It's what we train on an annual basis with our officers. We are responding to the actions of the suspects. When the suspects come at you with a gun or knife, de-escalation is impossible. Someone is shooting at you. These are officers in full uniform. We have crisis intervention training, but the intent of the suspect to create violence is what this is.

TED SIMONS-De-escalation, has that changed?

JERI WILLIAMS- We increased training, but too, the impact of cellphone video, everyone seeing what is going on and only getting a piece of information and making a judgment call at the scene based on the limited information. The training has changed. We were recognized a couple of years ago for our de-escalation tactics.

TED SIMONS-What does the officer go through?

JERI WILLIAMS- No officer wants to be involved in an officer-involved shooting. The emotional toll it takes on the men and women involved and the investigators is chilling. The criminal side has to prove that use of force was justified by the county attorney's office. On the administrative side, we are looking at policy violations. The officer has to go through that start to finish when he or she is responding to a choice someone else made to engage in violence. For us, we have a program that's anonymous or clergy come out. We have pure clergy come out. This rocks the world of the office as well as the family.

TED SIMONS- I was reading up on this. There is a police chief in Tulsa that says we are a reflection of the society we live in talking increased police shootings there as well. We talk about guns now and after the Florida situation. Is everyone out there increasingly armed and willing to use those firearms?

JERI WILLIAMS- I don't want to say that everyone out there is armed. There are a certain subsection of the population intent on criminal behave and blatantly disregard law enforcement. You roll that back and they blatantly disregard the victims and the system. I think the country is seeing an increase in violent crime. It's troubling to me that they had the intent to harm officers, which means they had intent to harm the community.

TED SIMONS-Do you find that will ebb and flow?

JERI WILLIAMS- If I had a crystal ball, I wish --

TED SIMONS-But has it been like that in the past?

JERI WILLIAMS- Sometimes, but it changes every year. You would think during the summertime you would see an increase because people are out. This is a unique dynamic we are trying to wrap our brains around. There has to be a research peace. Is it mental health? All of the challenges people feel as a stressor in the community? I would like to look at that to better equip the officers to respond.

TED SIMONS-In closing, what do you want people to know? We are talking about the Phoenix police department. There are others in the valley, but Phoenix P.D., what do you want the public to know?

JERI WILLIAMS- It's our last resort. We don't want to shoot or harm anyone in the community, however when faced with deadly force, my employs are impacted with life changing ways. We are here to protect and serve. It's my responsibility to take care of the mental and health of my employs.

TED SIMONS-Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Jeri Williams: Phoenix Chief of Police

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