PHOENIX - It's been more than two years since the Phoenix City Council started to look into the adoption of a civilian police oversight board, and the man tasked with leading that office is speaking out about his plans to hold the city's police department accountable.
The Office of Accountability and Transparency was approved in a 5-4 City Council vote over the summer of 2021. It will monitor or investigate police officers by reviewing use of force investigations, as well as oversee police training, discipline, and hiring.
Roger Smith was named director of the new Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT) in November and started in December. He's coming from a similar position for the city of Cleveland, where the Office of Professional Standards investigated up to 300 allegations of misconduct against officers annually.
He also spent nine years with the New York City's Civilian Complaint Board.
Smith comes on board as the Phoenix Police Department is currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. The federal investigation, announced back in August, is looking into the department's use of force practices, along with other civil rights violations.
OAT doesn't have the power to enforce disciplinary measures against officers, but it can provide recommendations to the police chief and police department.
Smith says a team of investigators and legal advisors still need to be hired, and investigations into allegations of misconduct will begin in six to eight months. He says the office will likely not look into controversial incidents that have happened in the past.
The Phoenix Police Department is under scrutiny as federal investigators are looking into claims of civil rights violations and abuse of power. Now, a new set of eyes will be on the department – Smith's.
He says his office has the power to start investigations and monitor the department’s Professional Standards Bureau investigations. "Officer-involved shootings are one, deaths in custody another, and serious injury in the custody of police, that’s a third."
But, the office does have its limitations. "We cannot compel anything. We cannot compel suspensions, terminations, exonerations, any of that," Smith said.
The office is not investigating this latest incident, involving the use of force on a 13-year-old girl by Phoenix Police, and OAT will likely not investigate past controversies.
"What's going to make a difference are the more accurate facts and more reliable information that comes out of this office," Smith said.
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