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Conversation with law enforcement ends weeklong MLK Day events
Prescott, Prescott Valley, Sheriff’s Office answer tough questions

The astute questions posed by audience members at the Greater Prescott Community Panel Jan. 25 sparked a civil conversation with representatives from local law enforcement agencies in the final event of weeklong gatherings during Martin Luther King, Jr., Day celebrations.

Kendra Hobson with St. Luke’s Ebony Church facilitated the discussion at the Prescott Adult Center that touched on race, diversity, how to voice concerns/complaints, body cameras, interpreters, ICE holds, opioid-related deaths, training, use of lethal force, partnerships and citizens committees.

Hobson read questions from submitted cards and from the small audience of about 20. The first asked what each agency was doing about the growing tension and brutality in the country, especially for people of color.

RACIAL ISSUES?

Dwight D’Evelyn, Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO) public affairs supervisor, read a letter from Sheriff Scott Mascher denouncing the racial beliefs of a Chino Valley-area man who wrote a letter to the NAACP earlier this month.

“As far as I know, there have been no complaints of police brutality,” D’Evelyn added.

Dave Fuller, Prescott Police Department (PPD) public information officer, said racial intolerance and prejudice have no role in the department. All officers undergo racial bias training, and escalation/de-escalation training.

This past year PPD had several use of force incidents of which one subject was Native American, one was Hispanic, and the rest were Caucasian. He has not seen any bias in the department.

Jerry Ferguson, community service officer with the Prescott Valley Police Department (PVPD), said, compared to other agencies in California where he worked, the community has little diversity. PVPD records and investigates any use of force incidents.

Since Rep. David Stringer’s well-publicized comments, none of the three have seen any increase in calls where victims are people of color.

Ferguson said the Hispanic population is the fastest growing group in PV, and the department conducts open community meetings twice a year. “We are doing everything we can to build community relations,” he said, adding that he has been frustrated with the lack of diversity within the department.

Susan Jones, with Prescott Sister City Association, Caborca, Mexico, commended PVPD for conducting its Latino community meetings in Spanish. She would like to see a similar program in Prescott.

COMPLAINTS

All three agencies report similar protocol when citizens want to voice concerns. They can immediately ask to speak to the officer’s supervisor, go online to make a complaint which is routed to internal affairs, or come in to the department lobby or city hall to speak with someone.

As for expensive body cameras, PPD does not use this system. However, as soon as the lights go on in the police vehicle, the car cameras start up.

In Prescott Valley, officers use a voice recorder. The cost of storing of video data for 76 sworn officers is prohibitive, Ferguson said.

About 98 percent of YCSO deputies use body cams. “They have been very effective in reducing complaints,” D’Evelyn said, adding that false complaints are cleared up very quickly after review of the tape. The agency releases videos in all YCSO shootings.

ICE PRESENCE

Authorized Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (ICE) are allowed at the county jail where they can put a deportation hold on undocumented or documented immigrants who have violated the law, D’Evelyn said.

PPD and PVPD operate similarly. “If we have a violation of the law, the suspect is booked into jail. The process at the jail is separate from our criminal investigation,” Fuller said.

ICE makes the decision whether to place a hold, Ferguson said. “Sometimes there’s no action and the person is released after adjudication.”

NUMBER OF OFFICERS

When asked why there appear to be so many law enforcement officers in the county, YCSO Bryan Thomas laughed and compared its population to that of Scottsdale PD from which he recently retired.

“Scottsdale is 180 square miles with 430 sworn officers. Yavapai County has 145 sworn officers who cover 8,100 square miles, ” Thomas said. “How do you police a large area with a small force?”

Ferguson said the population-based formula shows Prescott Valley needs 82 sworn officers; it has 76.

OPIOID USE

An audience member asked if officers arrest a person experiencing an opioid overdose. D’Evelyn said deputies may question the user to find out where the drugs came from. “Some people who overdose are selling to others. We look at the whole picture before an arrest,” he said.

Fuller said the person who calls 911 in overdose cases is immune from arrest. The Reach Out Initiative attempts to divert pre-sentence individuals with substance abuse and/or mental illness issues into rehabilitation programs.

RIGHT TO KNOW

When arrestees’ names and faces are published in the paper, D’Evelyn said, it is not to embarrass them or create a retaliation situation. It comes down to the public’s right to know, and sometimes the case expands as readers offer information on suspects, he added.

Both PVPD and PPD release photos, names and ages of anyone arrested on a felony charge.

Ferguson said Prescott Valley is establishing a police advisory board with members from a wide variety of backgrounds, including those with a prior incarceration.

“Some of our volunteers have criminal histories,” Ferguson said. “That doesn’t mean you are disqualified. We are looking for honesty.”

Editor's Note - This article has been updated to correct the suspects involved in use of force incidents, of which one was Native American, one was Hispanic, and the rest were Caucasian.

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