police

Nine West Valley municipalities have signed an intergovernmental agreement to create an investigative team that looks into critical incidents. 

Police chiefs from the cities of Avondale, Buckeye, Glendale, Goodyear, Peoria, El Mirage, Tolleson and Surprise, as well as the town of Wickenburg, make up the task force.

The West Valley Investigative Response Team will assist in the investigation, documentation, evidence gathering and related functions of a “critical incident,” including officer-involved shootings, officer injuries and other investigations. This WVIRT will ensure involved agencies are not investigating their own critical incidents.

The bill HB 2765 requires a third-party investigation into police shootings and other incidents. 

While the bill was passed unanimously by the Arizona House of Representative’s Criminal Justice Reform Committee, there are skeptics, including Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, who is accused of trying to help kill the bipartisan bill.  

During a press conference, Penzone said the bill fails to “truly make positive reform.” Additionally, he questioned the bill’s lack of specificity on how the investigation system would function, as well as stating it may cause smaller agencies with less resources to struggle. 

The bill also has its supporters, including Attorney General Mark Brnovich and the Arizona Police Association. 

Democratic state Rep. Reginald Bolding, along with two other Democratic lawmakers, introduced the bill. Bolding has been advocating for the bill since 2015.

Critical incident investigations are labor intensive and require voluminous man hours to complete, often straining existing resources necessary to conduct other investigations, said Avondale Police Chief Dale Nannenga in a city council report. 

Each department will assign no less than one sworn law enforcement officer to represent that party on the task force. They will be required to participate in all activations, meetings, trainings and other duties. 

“We’re going to be using our most skilled investigators, the most experienced investigators,” said Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall. “When you have an independent investigation, that, in itself, will minimize any thought that there’s impropriety or there’s any type of bias, and that’s key to having this program.”

Hall said it brings another level of transparency that all the agencies in the West Valley will be able to bring to their communities. 

“Having that independent investigation or that independent collection of facts would help reduce that perception of bias or persecution, or any type of perception of misconduct or hiding facts or anything like that, that might occur in people’s minds,” he said.

Hall said another task force benefit is the ability to mentor smaller agencies and provide them with not only training from more experienced investigators but provide them with more resources.

“Some of the larger agencies have more technological upgrades and advances, and by pooling a lot of those resources together, we’re maximizing that availability, and all those resources will be available for any agency that experiences an officer-involved shooting,” Hall said. 

Nannenga said all of the municipalities are doing their part to make sure fairness and unbiased investigations are the norm.

“We want to try to relieve people’s suspicions. We really want the facts to come out,” Nannenga said.

One of the newest editions of the task force is Surprise interim Police Chief Geoffrey Leggett. Leggett said this task force will continue to build on the already-established relationship the Surprise Police Department has with the community by maintaining and supporting their levels of trust.

“I think it’s a very positive step, and it will aid the West Valley agencies, as well as their communities, and ensure that investigations are done to a high quality and ensure neutrality for the investigation,” Leggett said.

Hall agreed. 

“At the end of the day here, transparency is important,” Hall said. “It’s critical in building public trust. And that independent investigation by another agency is also critical to maintaining that level of trust that there’s no improprieties going on.”