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In a 126-page scathing report released on Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Phoenix Police Department (PhxPD) was found to discriminate against Native Americans, Blacks, and Hispanics, unlawfully detain homeless people and use excessive force, including unjustified deadly force.

The investigation of the police force in the country’s fifth-largest city began on August 5, 2021.

The findings of the report were announced by Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who oversees the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“The findings that we have issued are severe,” Clarke said, adding, “This is one instance where we can’t count on the police to police themselves.”

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The American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) population of Phoenix is just over 39,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In the DOJ report, the AI/AN population was referred to as the Native American population.

In its executive summary, the Justice Department’s report finds that:

  • PhxPD uses excessive force, including unjustified deadly force and other types of force.
  • PhxPD and the City unlawfully detain, cite, and arrest people experiencing homelessness and unlawfully dispose of their belongings. This is the first time the Department has found a pattern or practice of conduct that focuses on the rights of people experiencing homelessness.
  • PhxPD discriminates against Black, Hispanic, and Native American people when enforcing the law.
  • PhxPD violates the rights of people engaged in protected speech and expression.
  • PhxPD and the City discriminate against people with behavioral health disabilities when dispatching calls for assistance and responding to people in crisis.

Native American Issues

For much of the report, Native Americans are often included in references to Blacks and Hispanics; however, Native Americans were singled out numerous times when addressing specific offenses. The Native community members faced higher incidences of being stopped by the police, given citations, and arrested.

  • Native Americans in Phoenix were 44 times more likely than white people to be cited or arrested for possessing or consuming alcohol. For Blacks, the rate was five times more likely than white people for alcohol-related offenses.
  • ​​Native American people are cited almost six times more often than white people for crossing a street against a “Don’t Walk” signal. 
  • On a per capita basis, Native American people in Phoenix were 26 times more likely than white people to be cited or arrested for remaining at a bus stop for over one hour in an eight-hour period, though Native American people make up only approximately 7% of the local homeless population while white people make up 68%. 
  • PhxPD officers were 14.5% more likely to book Native Americans for trespass-related offenses, while they cited or released white people stopped for the same violation.

The report cites that the PhxPD seems to be oblivious to the problem. The report states: 

“Earlier this year, PhxPD claimed that the department was ‘unaware of any credible evidence of discriminatory policing.This statement is troubling in light of the stark disparities described above. But it is also unsurprising—we saw no evidence PhxPD engages in self-assessment to identify potentially discriminatory policing patterns. However, community groups have raised concerns about PhxPD’s relationship with communities of color. For years, Black and brown communities in Phoenix have had a strained relationship with PhxPD.”

After Thursday’s release of the report, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said in a statement that city officials would meet on June 25 to seek legal advice and discuss the next steps.

The report states that the PhxPD maintains inadequate internal controls, including through data review or misconduct investigations that would identify discriminatory policing. The report says PhxPD’s data collection practices have been deficient; the agency did not require all officers to document police stops that did not result in citations or arrests until after we opened our investigation

"I will carefully and thoroughly review the findings before making further comment, "Gallego said.

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].