Like a lot of Valley residents, I have some burning questions about the huge spike in officer-involved shootings (OIS) that Phoenix saw last year. But I also have questions about the reaction to those police shootings and an independent report on the shootings produced by the National Police Foundation (NPF) and Arizona State University.
Before we get to the report, consider these stunning statistics: In the nine years prior to 2018, Phoenix averaged 21 officer-involved shootings a year, less than half the total (44) in 2018. The number of fatalities (22) that resulted from those officer-involved shootings in 2018 also led the nation. In fact, it was more than double the number of any local law enforcement agency – with the exception of Los Angeles, which saw 14 fatalities in a city that’s almost two-and-a-half times more populous than Phoenix.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams asked the City Council to commission a study to get some answers. On the day the $149,000 study was approved, police union official Ken Crane said he also wanted answers, but opined that “I think there is a problem with escalating violence toward police officers.”
Bingo. The study, released in April, showed virtually zero connective tissue between the 44 OIS incidents, at least in regard to officers’ conduct and/or characteristics. The study compared ages, ranks, tenure, race, weapons used, distance from suspect, even the uniform that officers were wearing (tactical vs. patrol), when their OIS happened. NPF found no statistical smoking gun.
However, many of the characteristics of the people whom Phoenix officers fired on were statistically different. The most important: “…in 2018, Phoenix police officers faced more subjects armed with guns (or simulated guns) than in years past…” The emphasis is mine, and here’s why: From 2009 to 2017, 54.4 percent of Phoenix’s OIS incidents involved a subject with a gun. In 2018, it was 81.8 percent. The percentage of OIS incidents involving an unarmed subject, by the way, remained steady at around 2 percent.
Whoa, dude! The heads of several members of the social justice group Poder in Action exploded upon the receipt of this news. Once their brains were reinserted, they released a statement that said that the study “…does not provide any new information nor provide any new solutions.”
No new information? That’s bogus. It’s just not the information they wanted to hear – that violent citizens were the problem, not the cops. But I haven’t taken anything they say seriously since they issued a holiday travel warning for Phoenix to people of color “due to the record number of police shootings.”
They were right about one thing: The report offered no credible solutions. I have one, however: Stop pointing guns at police officers. Do that and – poof! – much of the problem will disappear. Like Poder’s logic.
Jim Sharpe is the host of Arizona’s Morning News on KTAR-FM 92.3 (weekdays 5-9 a.m.). Visit ktar.com to find more information about his on-air work.