Phoenix Police searching for answers, as officer involved shootings almost doubled in 2018

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- The Phoenix Police Department is on track to set a record in 2018 for the highest number of officer shootings.

In 41 separate incidents this year, officers fired their service weapons, killing 19 people, and the city's police chief has not answered the question of "why".

Law enforcement officers in violent confrontations have to make split second decisions, and sometimes, it's a matter of life and death. They are trained to shoot and kill to put an end to life-threatening situations. For Phoenix Police, those situations played out way too many times in 2018.

Of the 41 Phoenix Police shootings, the threat had a gun on them in 35 of them. In five of those situations, the subjects were carrying knives. Nearly half of Phoenix Police shootings ended with officers shooting and killing a person.

"My officers are responding to the threat they come in contact with when they arrive on scene. They are not quick to jump," said Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams.

35 of those involved an individual choice to point at or shoot at law enforcement, and/or could have shot at, harmed, or killed other people prior to our arrival," said ___. "In those 35 instances, officers may have not had any reaction time to do anything other than use their firearms."

The number of police shootings in Phoenix so far in 2018 has raised alarms, both in Phoenix and across the country. 2018 will record the highest number of officer shootings in the Phoenix Police Department's history.

What is going on?

"I don't have the answers to those opinions," said Williams. "I don't have answers to those questions, which is why we called in the National Police Foundation to look at those trends."

Williams initiated a $150,000 study to find the answers. Results of the six-month inquiry are expected to be released in early 2019.

"What we are finding, we have had an uptick on aggravated assaults on officers," said Williams. "What we are finding is that of those assaults, there are more firearms being used by individuals on our officers."

At least 30 of the police shootings are being investigated by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. So far, the officers' actions were found to be justified.

"People who are out on release and the resolution of their case is going to result in prison, and so, we've got fugitive apprehension teams going out with an arrest warrant, and the person they want to arrest doesn't wanna be arrested, and they're using weapons against police," said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

Montgomery believes that could be a reason for the spike in Phoenix police shootings.

"We're seeing an increasing amount of suspects who have weapons," said Montgomery. "My biggest concern, as a citizen, is the willingness of suspects to resort to deadly force at the first instance of contact. That's something I don't think we've seen to this degree in the past."

In two incidents, officers shot men who were not armed with their own weapon.

"Don't be so quick to pull your weapon out, and due to the point it was a hollow-point bullet, I think they should change that because I could've been walking now, even with his wrong decision-making," said Edward Brown, who was shot by Phoenix Police.

Brown, 35, was shot several times in the back by a Phoenix cop he was running from. He's now paralyzed. and has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the department and the city. Police reports show the officer believed Brown was trying to grab his pistol out of his hand, but Brown claims the officer lied in the report.

"If Edward had been trying to take a gun from the police officer, as has been alleged from the police department, he would've been shot in the front, not in the back," said Brown's attorney, Tom Horn.

Another man, Alex Andrich, was being cited and handcuffed for trespassing. Andrich broke away from the officer's grip, then was shot and killed. Police said the cuffs were used as a weapon against the arresting officer.

Body camera video has not been released in the majority of Phoenix Police shootings. There's only 300 cameras for nearly 1,200 patrol officers and sergeants, and the County Attorney is limiting public access to the videos until the investigations are complete. Investigations usually take several months.

"This isn't meant to be a clash between due process and the 1st Amendment. It plays out that way sometimes, but Nicole, what I want you to understand, this is not an effort to control information, or to exert some degree of authority over a process," said Montgomery. He went on to say that releasing body cam video could taint the integrity of the investigation and jeopardize prosecution.

Critics say Phoenix officers are too quick to shoot. During a Phoenix City Council meeting, protesters read names of those who died.

There is no obvious trend when it comes to who Phoenix Police have shot or killed. They include two women, more than a dozen of them were felons with rap sheets. There is not a particular race, age group, or part of the city that appears to be targeted the most. Some of the shooters had no criminal history before they shot at police or killed someone.

Williams called 2018 an "anomaly", and takes offense to being called one of the deadliest police force's in the country.

"It's concerning," said Williams. "It was alarming to me because I know that's not what the Phoenix Police Department is."

Williams says officers are learning from the shootings, which are now included in their training, and they are continually reviewing tactics.

As city leaders and residents ponder whether the record high police shootings in Phoenix are the result of excessive force, trigger-happy cops, more violent offenders, more brazen people willing to attack police, or all of the above, Phoenix's top cop isn't offering an explanation, for now.

"My officers want to know what's going on. I want to know whats going on. The community wants to know whats going on, and I'm looking forward to the results of the study," said WIlliams.

Statistics regarding Officer Involved Shooting Incidents in Phoenix