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Arizona police get more legal protections


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  • Arizona police get more legal protections

    Laws cover whistle-blowers, internal inquiries, firings
    Arizona police officers accused of misconduct will soon have more protection.

    Gov. Jan Brewer has signed six bills, backed by police unions, that spell out procedures for internal investigations.

    The new laws give whistle-blower protections to officers who report wrongdoing and ensure fired officers who are reinstated by outside panels receive full back pay.

    Union presidents will now be able to ask an oversight board to investigate internal matters if their agency has failed to do so or if they disagree with their department's findings. And, in most cases, internal inquiries should be wrapped up within four months.

    One of the new laws also requires that officers accused of wrongdoing must be informed of punishments doled out in similar cases.

    The Republican-sponsored legislation follows last year's adoption of Arizona's "just cause" law, which bars excessive police discipline and requires that it be based on a "preponderance of evidence."

    Police-union leaders say they promoted this year's bills after a series of actions by police administrators that they viewed as unjust.

    One example offered is the case of Richard Chrisman, a Phoenix officer indicted last fall on charges of second-degree murder in the shooting of a domestic-violence suspect.

    The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association blasted then-Chief Jack Harris for launching the officer's termination process before his criminal trial.

    Chrisman has since been fired, and his trial is set to begin in June.

    "The legislature heard the needs for the street-level officer, and they responded in kind very favorably," said Brian Livingston, executive director of the Arizona Police Association.

    Police unions weren't asking for anything more than the due process an arrested citizen receives, said Larry A. Lopez, president of the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs.

    "Just because we wear uniforms, we're not relegated to a watered-down version of constitutional rights," said Lopez, a Tucson officer.

    But police chiefs and experts have urged caution. They say a careful balance must be maintained.

    Most police officers are good employees, but some aren't, said Mike Frazier of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police.

    "Adding so many rules sometimes makes it difficult to do the right thing, and you have to ask yourself: 'Is the eventual loser the community?' " said Frazier, police chief in Surprise.

    Hubert Williams, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Police Foundation, has said laws that impact the inner workings of a department can hamper a police chief's discretion.

    "They can limit the police chief's ability to get the facts on officers who are deemed to be acting inappropriately," said Williams, a former Newark, N.J., chief.

    The Arizona bills changed significantly throughout the process.

    In one bill's original form, police-union presidents could have gone directly to the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which provides oversight to state police agencies, to request an investigation.

    The board's executive director raised concerns, saying his agency didn't have the resources to do that.

    In the version of the bill signed by Brewer, union leaders must first give their own agency a chance to review the likely controversial matter.

    Arizona Sen. Linda Gray, R-Phoenix, who sponsored two of the bills, said police chiefs and union leaders agreed on most of the legislation that moved forward.

    But an amendment that added whistle-blower protections didn't get support from police leaders.

    The chiefs group wanted more time to assess its impact, but the bill moved ahead.

    "If officers find somebody is doing something wrong, they should be able to report that without fear of reprisal," Gray said.
    NRA Life Member

    The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence. - Sir Robert Peel

    Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats. - H. L. Mencken

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