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In Surprise Move, Ariz. Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Shielded Officer’s From Public Scrutiny When They Kill Someone

Gov. Ducey
Gov. Ducey

Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, surprised many by vetoing at the final hour a controversial bill that would have banned law enforcement agencies from releasing for 60 days the names of officers who kill citizens in deadly uses of force.

Though the bill was strongly supported by rank-and-file police officers through their union, it was opposed by the state’s police chiefs, giving Ducey the political cover to turn the bill away. The bill was a particularly alarming show of political power by Arizona’s Republicans, who were oblivious to the potentially explosive ramifications of a 60-day waiting period.

After unarmed African-Americans such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice were killed by police, an outcry immediately was raised in the public for the officer’s name. If Black protesters in these cases were forced to wait for two months for law enforcement to give them a name, the outrage would have been extreme.

But Arizona lawmakers say the law was intended to protect the officers. The bill’s supporters claimed that officers have gotten death threats after deadly force incidents even if the officer was not ultimately charged or disciplined and the killing was ruled an accident. It should be pointed out, however, that officers getting charged is an extremely rare occurrence.

The state senate actually approved a 90-day wait, but it was chopped down to 60 days after further debate.

Ducey waited until just hours before the midnight deadline to veto the bill. Based on the letter he wrote explaining his action, he may have been chastened by the loud opposition the bill got from civil rights groups, news organizations in Arizona and even the chiefs of police departments in the state.

The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police seemed particularly concerned by the loss of power the bill represented. They currently have the discretion to decide when an officers’ name is released.

“To add another law that’s going to add distrust or adversarial relationships is not the way to go,” Roberto Villaseñor, the president of the association and chief of the Tucson Police Department, said Monday, according to the New York Times. “Why do I cloak it in secrecy for 60 days, and now I’m going to have this story run twice? Sixty days later, we’re going to rehash it again.”

“Police officers have extraordinary authority — to investigate us, detain us, and search or arrest us,” the A.C.L.U. wrote in a letter to the governor that was signed by several civil rights activists and groups. “When agencies and officers use these powers, the public must be informed. These powers are much more likely to be abused when their use is concealed from the community.”

But Levi Bolton Jr., executive director of the Arizona Police Association, the state’s 14,000-member police officers union, said his members were “livid” about the veto.

He said he had met with the governor on Monday morning to outline his case for the bill and he couldn’t tell which way Ducey was going to go.

 “It was perhaps the best poker face I’d seen,” he said. “I’m not only disappointed, I’m angry about it.”

“It is almost like folks were not really listening to anything we had to say from the start,” he said, according to the Times. “This bill was not intended to be nefarious, or to deprive people of information. There’s no other benefit derived from this other than to protect the name of the officer. “

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