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After Arizona Plans Bodycam Rollout, Activists Complain They May Exonerate Cops

Activists criticized Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's decision to equip DPS troopers with bodycams.

Phoenix, AZ – The governor has proposed spending $5 million in the 2021 budget to equip Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers with bodycams and police critics have already complained.

Only 20 DPS troopers currently wear bodycams, and those that do purchased the equipment with their own money, KTAR reported.

“These are the good guys, and we should do everything in our power to protect them,” Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said. “That’s why our budget includes funding to finally put body cameras on every state trooper.”

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Kyley Jensen, from the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budget, said the state was planning to purchase no more than 1,267 bodycams in order to put one on every trooper, KTAR reported.

DPS Spokesman Bart Graves said the troopers were grateful for the “crucially-needed” bodycams.

The governor’s proposal also included funds to hire staff to manage the bodycam video they capture, according to KTAR.

Activist groups expressed concern that the bodycams would be used to protect troopers and not for the public good, and pointed to the officer-involved shooting of 14-year-old Antonio Arce on Jan. 15, 2019.

The incident occurred at approximately 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 15, 2019, when Tempe Police Officer Joseph Jaen responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle near the intersection of Baseline Road and 48th Street, KPNX reported.

As the officer approached the area, the suspect got out of a vehicle he had broken into and was carrying a handgun, police said.

The teen, later identified by his family as Arce, took off on foot, WLS reported.

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During the foot chase that ensued, the teen refused to comply with the officers’ verbal commands, and ultimately began to turn towards them, KTLA reported.

Officer Jaen “perceived a threat and fired his service weapon striking the suspect,” police said at the time, according to KPNX.

Arce was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Investigators recovered items the teen had stolen from the vehicle, including an airsoft replica 1911 handgun.

Officer Jaen, a 14-year veteran-of-the-force, resigned from the Tempe Police Department (TPD) in May of 2019 while the investigation into the case was still underway, KTAR reported.

Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir said the officer would have faced disciplinary action if he had not resigned.

Chief Moir said that even though Officer Jaen perceived that Arce could have hurt or killed him or innocent citizens, “his actions deviated from our training.”

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“He violated the Tempe Police Department code of conduct that says he failed to comply with the department’s use of force policy,” the chief said.

The county prosecutor declined to bring any charges against Office Jaen.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said that she reviewed bodycam footage, transcripts, photos, and an analysis from an outside investigator and determined the use of deadly force against Arce was justified.

“We review the facts as an independent charging agency to ensure that the due process rights of a potential criminal defendant or a potential victim are protected,” Adel noted, adding that her office must never “rush to judgement.”

“Based on the evidence and the facts in this case, Officer Jaen believed that he was in imminent danger,” Adel told reporters. “Officer Jaen believed that those in the immediate area were in imminent danger.”

Officer Jaen “believed that he had no other choice but to fire his weapon to protect himself and the community,” the county attorney concluded.

Adel said that the outcome of the encounter was “heartbreaking,” but that Officer Jaen had no way of knowing that the suspect was armed with a replica weapon.

“In that moment, he saw a suspect running through a neighborhood with a weapon” while fleeing the scene of a crime, she said.

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Officer Jaen also knew that the suspect was holding the gun “in a manner where the weapon could be easily discharged,” to include having his “finger on the trigger,” she added.

Two other witnesses also reported having seen the suspect’s finger on the trigger of the gun.

Adel explained that officers “can’t treat things as if maybe it’s a toy and maybe it’s not,” especially given the other circumstances of the encounter.

Isis Gil, with the grassroots migrant rights group Puente, called Ducey’s bodycam proposal a “cookie cutter solution” to a bigger problem, KTAR reported.

“It’s really frustrating to hear Ducey talk about the cost of human lives, the cost of our patrol in a public safety umbrella,” Gil said. “It’s just very difficult to speak of it when you know that really what that breaks down to is young people’s lives, particularly that of black and brown individuals.”

“There was no need to escalate to the point of shooting [Arce],” she said. “This is a public safety conversation in terms of how our community needs to be treated by those in power.”

Kat McKinney, an organizer with a local Black Lives Matter group, said bodycams should be about keeping the public safe and police accountable, KTAR reported.

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McKinney also said Ducey’s proposal didn’t go far enough by just equipping the DPS troopers.

“We’d like for him to enforce the rest of the police departments as well,” she told KTAR. “It doesn’t matter how much money it is or where it comes from – it’s something that needs to be done right away. People are still dying and getting mistreated.”

Sandy Malone - March Wed, 2020

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