Arizona bills would limit civilians on police review panels

Legislation backed by law enforcement groups that would sharply limit the ability of civilians to sit on police review boards sailed through an Arizona Senate committee March 25 over opposition from minority Democrats who argued the proposals could undercut efforts to boost accountability.

One measure approved by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee would limit the percentage of civilians on police investigation and discipline boards. The measure by Republican Rep. John Kavanaugh of Fountain Hills, HB2567, would require at least two-thirds of the members be sworn officers from the same department as the officer facing review.

Kavanaugh argued that boards overseeing other professions are normally dominated by members of that group and it makes sense that police review boards also contain trained professionals. He noted that Phoenix is considering stripping all police from its review board, which he called "ridiculous."

"You take all the cops off these boards, you’re removing a lot of valuable knowledge and experience," Kavanaugh said.

Civil rights advocates called Kavanaugh’s proposal a step back from the growing trend of having civilians oversee police discipline reviews to ensure public accountability.

"The purpose of civilian review boards is to increase public access to the complaint system, promote transparency, reduce conflicts of interests in internal investigations and discipline and promote public trust in the criminal legal system," said Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist testifying on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. :"HB 2567 undermines each of those goals with a shortsighted attempt to protect police officer from desperately needed oversight."

Another measure, HB2462 by Republican Rep. Kevin Payne of Peoria, would require members of civilian review boards to either attend a community college police academy or take 80 hours of state-certified police officer training.

"We think the requirements outlined in the bill are a bridge too far and will have a chilling effect on the public’s ability to participate on these boards," said Roxanna Pitones, a lobbyist with the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

Others noted that the training requirements would eliminate anyone with a felony conviction or who could not pass a physical test.

Joe Clure, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, said both measures were needed and the training bill would not exclude anyone.

"The notion that this bill blocks people is absolutely ludicrous," Clure said. "It just simply trains people, educates people," so they are better equipped to review officers’ actions.

Both measures have already passed the GOP-controlled House with only Republican support and now await votes in the full Senate, where GOP members control 16 of 30 seats.

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