With one of the topics of the summer — police — solidifying its mark in social history, Paradise Valley Police Chief Peter Wingert examined how the local department compares to suggested federal police reform policies.
Overall, the small-town department appears alight closely with the federal guidelines, data presented by Mr. Wingert at a Sept. 10 Paradise Valley Town Council meeting shows.
Beyond incorporating federal legislation, the police department has goals for its future: earn accreditation.
Mr. Wingert says the department hopes to earn its accreditation in January through the Arizona Law Enforcement Accreditation Program operated by the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police — an effort the chief has long been after.
In the meantime, the department is dealing with a raft of new rules and suggestions as ways to revamp its policing efforts. In June, President Donald Trump signed an executive order called Safe Policing for Safe Communities, which reformed about six aspects of police work, Mr. Wingert said.
Additionally, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have voted on a police reform bill, and 27 states have taken some action to reform policing. Mr. Wingert says the U.S. Conference of Mayors suggested reform measures as well.
“My intent with this was to give you the thoughts, and hopefully answer your questions, and questions you might be getting from constituents, of how your police department is doing in relation to all the things going on about us,” Mr. Wingert said.
Reform measures fall into four broad categories: reporting, policy, training and external factors, Mr. Wingert says.
To align with suggestions, the PVPD implemented some changes in June 2020:
“Mayor Bien-Willner, Town Manager Keimach and I met several times in relation to the Paradise Valley Police Department use of force policy and other related issues along the lines of policing,” Mr. Wingert said of summer discussions.
The first three bulleted items implemented this June are policies within Mr. Trump’s executive order, Mr. Wingert says.
“ were not specifically written out in our use-of-force policies, so those have been changed to be clearly called out,” he said of local policies.
While going over different reform measures and trends for police work, Mr. Wingert gave one passionate plea.
“One of the concerns for me is reconsidering what officers do. One of the things that we don’t do well is respond to social issues. By social issues, I’m talking about mental health, homelessness and addition issues — we don’t have great tools for handling those,” Mr. Wingert said.
“I guess if there’s one ask out of this whole presentation, my ask for you, or from you would be speaking to constituents at county and state levels to fully fund mental health services and homelessness services those social issues we don’t deal with well to provide the assistance we need to safely get the job done.”
The Paradise Valley Police Department has received 12 mental health-related calls during 2020 so far, Mr. Wingert says, but points out past years are less.
In 2017, 2018 and 2019, Mr. Wingert says the department received an average of one mental health call per month, or 12 a year.
Homelessness calls are received at a rate a “little higher” than the mental health calls, Mr. Wingert said. There have been 13 calls for homelessness in 2020, he said.
Calls about addition issues are in the single digits, the police chief said.
The police department is in the beginning stages of a mediation program to deal with issues such as neighborhood disputes.
“The mediation you all have had ideas about setting up will be important to continue,” Mr. Wingert told the council of their support.
Further, training the department receives every three years will soon include autism training beginning in January.
Other mandatory training includes deescalation techniques, anti-bias/implicit bias, procedural justice, cultural literacy and regular training on department’s use of force policy.
Paradise Valley Town Councilmember Scott Moore applauded Mr. Wingert on his efforts to address community issues such as homelessness.
“[I] really appreciate your awareness to focus your efforts on mental health, homelessness, addition issues, look ahead at things we can always do better and improve on,” Mr. Moore said.
One policy in President Trump’s executive order is to mandate policing agencies seek credentialing.
The pursuit to seek accreditation is something Mr. Wingert has talked about for some time, Councilmember Ellen Andeen said upon hearing of his January goal.
“I know that was a big goal of yours when you came to the town,” Ms. Andeen said.
Mr. Wingert says the department’s training records were audited this past summer, and PVPD is considered in compliance with Arizona standards.
“The Paradise Valley Police Department is seeking accreditation currently,” he said. “We entered into that in April of 2019 — there are 175 standards, best practices, and then we have to prove how we meet each one of them. So if it says ‘Hey, your use-of-force policy needs to say X’ how do you prove to that policy? So, as far as that goes, we are getting close to the end of the accreditation program.”
Other policies in the executive order, which Mr. Wingert says PVPD does is:
“All the officers report any use of force, show of force — so any time they point a gun at somebody on a felony traffic stop or on an alarm call, those types of things, we write up a use-of-force report and review that internally,” Mr. Wingert said. “At the end of the year, we write up a use of force report for the forces we’ve used, or the show of force we’ve used, and post that on our website.”
The police department provides reports on use of force for 2016-19.
The reports show use of force for those years were:
In 2019, the reported use includes pointing a gun at the suspect, and using “soft empty hand control.” The cases that warranted use of force included burglary in progress, foot pursuit, mental health call, suicidal with gun and a domestic situation.
Town Council member Paul Dembow asked how the morale of the police department is, given the current social climate.
“I haven’t heard a single resident asking to defund the police, so that’s good news,” Mr. Dembow said. “I am curious — nationally several police chiefs have taken early retirements. I’m curious about the morale of our team. Are they positive, and feel the love from the community?”
Mr. Wingert says they do feel the love.
“We get emails regularly that we turn around and put out to the officers — every week we send out at least two emails,” Mr. Wingert said.
“But the continual encouragement is important, particularly when you’re not seeing anything good about your profession in the media.”