Roger Smith takes over as Phoenix investigating police misconduct

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Roger Smith recently took the reins as director of the new Phoenix Accountability and Transparency Office – recently formed to monitor and investigate possible misconduct by the Phoenix Police Department.

Interview requests with Smith since his first day on Dec. 6 were turned down but would later be accommodated once he settled into the new role, according to Dan Wilson, communications director for Phoenix. Smith was also absent to attend a conference with other law enforcement officials from across the country, Wilson later told The Arizona Republic.

The office was approved by a restricted city council vote in May after the public demanded more oversight of the police department. In addition to investigating, the office could make recommendations on policy, training and possible disciplinary action.

Smith, who after nationwide research was selected in November as the office’s first director, would be responsible for developing and implementing its policies, procedures and programs. As part of this, he is responsible for hiring staff who may not have previously worked in law enforcement or be law enforcement family members.

Smith has already presented a 6 month plan

It’s not immediately clear how much progress Smith was able to make in his first few weeks as a director.

At a community forum in September, Smith said the office in its first six months would focus on developing “communication skills” by having two community engagement coordinators interact with members of the community. the community mainly in areas “known to generate higher levels of police complaints”.

Another six-month priority would be to develop written agreements with the various agencies whose office frequently obtains information, according to Smith.

“If you can watch, as a member of the public after the first six months, and there are people in your neighborhood who know what OAT is, know exactly what OAT is doing, know where they can find the OAT and where they can file a complaint… that’s a success for us in the first six months, ”Smith said at the time.

The office would at some point supplement its staff with “effective” investigators and a research analyst, according to Smith.

“The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association supports transparency and accountability, and we have worked diligently with community leaders on real solutions over the years,” said Michael “Britt” London, president of the association, in a statement. . “We hope that the Office of Accountability and Transparency will create a fair and transparent process for its future work and include public safety stakeholders in the development of the office.

“We look forward to working with Mr. Smith in this new role,” London continued.

“The loss of Cleveland is the gain of Phoenix”

Smith said that being the director of the Office of Accountability and Transparency in Phoenix would be “the natural culmination of all my professional experience in this area.”

“I was introduced to this issue of civilian oversight as a teenager,” he said, “when I started being arrested several times in northern New Jersey”.

Previously, he worked as an attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, as Attorney General, and for the New York City Civil Complaints Board. Prior to assuming the new role in Phoenix, Smith served as a director of the City of Cleveland’s Professional Standards Office since 2018, leading investigations into conduct complaints against the Cleveland Police.

Spyridon Kodellas, who appears on the Cleveland Office of Professional Standards website as a research analyst, said Smith was a “very genuine and empathetic leader.”

Roger Smith, an attorney who was hired in 2018 to oversee the professional standards office of the Cleveland Department of Public Safety, said it was important for cities to have a civilian review board on policing. "because you want to build trust in the community."

Smith helped train knowledgeable investigators and staff and provided them with clear direction on the office’s priorities and goals, according to Kodellas. He also helped bring the office into compliance with nearly all of its responsibilities under the consent decree between Cleveland and the US Department of Justice, Kodellas said.

“The loss of Cleveland is the gain of Phoenix as Roger will bring extensive and extensive civilian oversight experience to the Office of Accountability and Transparency,” Kodellas said. “In addition, his empathetic leadership will help establish an effective and efficient civilian oversight office that will eventually be able to increase police accountability and reduce police misconduct in Phoenix.”

Smith said earlier this year that the “most important” case in the Cleveland office under his leadership was the death of 13-year-old Tamia Chappman in 2019 after being struck by a car chased by Cleveland Police, according to cleveland.com.

The bureau recommended disciplinary action in March for at least nine of the officers involved, cleveland.com reported. But the Cleveland Police Chief ultimately decided to issue written penalties against two of the officers implied.

“We are entering a new chapter”

Local activists who lobbied for police reform within the Phoenix Police Department were cautiously optimistic about what the city’s new Accountability and Transparency Office could do for the community.

While this seemed like a step in the right direction on paper, it remained to be seen if it could result in real police oversight and accountability, explained Kenneth Smith, head of the Unity Collective and candidate for Phoenix City Council. .

“I want this to be what it’s meant to be and not just another Phoenix and City Police performative exercise,” Kenneth Smith said. “The intention is that we have a regulator or someone who is a director who can actually look at these things, but the impact could be very small.”

“I hope and pray that they give him the ability to do what he has to do,” continued Kenneth Smith. “And I hope he’s the right person to do it and that he’s not won over by any kind of political or professional title.”

Activists hoped that in addition to investigating current and future allegations of Phoenix police misconduct, the office would look into past incidents that some believed had been swept under the rug.

In 2018, officers in Phoenix shot more people than any other police department in the country. And 10 years of Phoenix police records released in 2020 found its officers to be much more likely to use force against Hispanic, black, and Native American residents than whites.

The department has also been charged with misconduct against protesters in Phoenix, including laying gang-related charges against a group protesting police violence.

Many of these incidents are currently part of a thorough investigation by the Department of Justice into allegations of abuse, excessive force and discrimination by the Phoenix police.

“The police have been watching each other for a very long time,” said Jamaar Williams, co-policy minister with Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro. “With the Office of Accountability and Transparency, we hope to break this cycle.”

“As a resident of Phoenix, I would like to see Mr. Smith seek out other voices interested in holding the police to account for his misconduct,” Williams continued. “And those voices can’t come from the historic places they’re coming from, they have to come from the community.”

Campaigners also hoped Smith would look into the city’s relationships with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which some say has helped limit investigations into officer misconduct.

“Like anyone who seeks out policing accountability – restructuring policy, looking for alternatives to policing resources – anyone who advocates for anything in this universe is going to run into trouble with PLEA,” said Jacob Raiford, a main organizer with WE Rising Project. “PLEA is one of the failing points of the City of Phoenix, PLEA’s involvement in police and city council decisions and the interaction and engagement of the Phoenix Police Department has been an issue. which is really an understatement at this point. “

Raiford, however, later noted that the creation of the Accountability and Transparency Office, the selection of Jeff Barton as city manager and the hiring of Roger Smith signified a new chapter for the city of Phoenix.

“I approach everything from a neutral point of view as we enter a new chapter,” said Raiford.

Republic reporter Jimmy Jenkins contributed to this report.

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @curtis_chels.

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