On an emotional level, Arizona Senate Bill 1445 has a certain appeal. It would require police departments to withhold for 90 days the name of an officer involved in a use-of-force incident.
The natural inclination is to protect a cop when a shooting inflames passions. Arizona law already allows that, entrusting police chiefs to balance competing interests and exercise judgment.
SB 1445 throws judgment out, instead giving priority to riding out a storm. The unintended consequences are so great the Legislature should reject this bill.
Secrecy breeds mistrust. We saw that in legislative leadership’s rush to pass a budget before the public could dig into it. A body that already suffers from low public approval took another hit. That’s unfortunate and could have been avoided with greater transparency.
Similarly, police departments that withhold the names of officers involved in shootings risk losing pubic support. Did the officer have a sterling record or a history of complaints? Involvement in previous shootings? Up-to-date training? Are they hiding something?
Knowing the answers can ease tensions. It doesn’t make sense to tie a police department’s hands.
Unless you lead the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. It is the primary force behind this bill, another front in its battle against whoever sits in the Phoenix police chief’s office. PLEA’s only interest is protecting its members, and the Legislature should remember the union has gone to great lengths to defend members who ended up in prison.
Police chiefs have a bigger vision that that.
That’s one reason the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposes this bill. Its members recognize responsibility to their communities requires them to exercise discretion and balance interests. Lawmakers should consider their counterproposal, which would allow departments to withhold the name of an officer involved in a shooting, “taking into consideration the privacy, confidentiality and safety of the police officer.”
That clearly gives preference to keeping the name private for an appropriate amount of time, while trusting police chiefs to do their jobs and serve their communities. It’s the right approach.
It also recognizes this truth: Names will come out. If you doubt it, consider that the supposed name of the holdout juror in the Jodi Arias case was circulating online within hours of the verdict.
If a police officer’s name is to be released, better that it be done in a responsible way with full context. The police chief’s proposal would allow that. SB 1445 would inflame rumor mills. It’s a bad bill.