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Tempe task force to address issues within its police department

Mayor Corey Woods established the task force to reform the Tempe police, but the committee faces uncertainty heading into elections

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A Tempe Police squad car is pictured outside the Tempe Police Department Headquarters on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020 in Tempe.

Tempe City Council's Public Safety Advisory Task Force Committee has four meetings left before the committee drafts an advisory plan to address racism in the city's police department. 

The advisory committee was selected by Mayor Corey Woods earlier this month and is made up of local civil rights leaders, community leaders and elected officials looking to address issues within the Tempe Police Department such as racism and the interactions with Tempe's BIPOC community.

"I thought the best way to really begin to have these conversations is to bring people together who have insight, knowledge and passion about this issue," Woods said. "To sit with members of our police department, city staff, members of City Council and begin to talk about what the future looks like."

With the national spotlight on police reform or abolition, Woods said he hopes to restore trust and accountability between the community and Tempe PD. 

"We don't shy away from challenging conversations," Woods said. "We work together, and we're doing the best we can to produce the best possible results for the city of Tempe."

However, some task force members are still grappling with what the top priorities should be, and how much actual change will result from the plan they draft in January 2021.

Genevieve Vega, a business consultant and member of the task force, said she doesn't have a clear sense of what the task force can recommend.

"I don't know if ordinance changes are on the table, budgetary conversations, hiring and firing policies, disciplinary policies — I just don't know," Vega said. "That's what I'm hoping to uncover very, very soon."

According to Woods, the task force and its recommendations are not binding in nature. Tempe PD will work with the city government to decide what elements of the plan can be implemented and how the department will do so.

Vega said she would also like to see more ASU representation in the meetings going forward, as the city of Tempe is "inextricably connected" with the University. 

"I don't know how we can reach reasonable solutions or plans or come up with a plan without including that conversation (with ASU)," Vega said.

The ASU Police Department has Public Safety Advisory Committees at each campus, separate from the city of Tempe's task force and established in 1990. 

While the ASU and Tempe committees are separate, Woods said there is an opportunity for the recommendations to "overlap" between Tempe PD and ASU PD. 

In early 2019, protesters filled the streets after then-Officer Joseph Jaen shot and killed 14-year-old Antonio Arce as he ran away from the officer. 

READ MORE: Protesters, students demand justice for 14-year-old shot by Tempe police

In January 2020, just over a year after Jaen shot Arce, Maricopa County announced Jaen would not face criminal charges. The Tempe Police Public Safety Personnel Retirement System Board also granted Jaen accidental disability retirement in an unanimous vote. 

Both of these decisions were met with backlash from the community. 

In June this year, the Tempe City Council unanimously approved a $2 million settlement for Arce's family. 

The concerns regarding the task force's ability to push for change came to a head in its meeting Wednesday, over the uncertain future of the committee's Nov. 4 meeting. 

The day after the general election was scheduled to be the task force's third meeting, but the potential stress on members and mounting concerns over the aftermath of the presidential election have thrown the meeting into question.  

"There's going to be a lot of people who are going to be out late the night before, who are going to be emotionally exhausted from a lot of the work that they have to do," Woods said as to why the future of the meeting is up in the air. 

Woods said it is not yet decided whether the meeting will be rescheduled to a later date or if it will be canceled altogether. 

Roy Tatem Jr., president of the East Valley NAACP, said in the meeting Wednesday election results could spark conflict and uncertainty for the task force. 

"If Joe Biden is elected, the Black community and communities of color are expecting those that support (President Donald Trump) to act," Tatem said in the meeting. "That will not be a comfortable night of sleep and rest — there will be people concerned."

Despite the uncertain future of the committee, Woods said he is confident the task force will be able to deliver an "actionable" plan by January.

"At the end of the day, we would not be having this task force if we did not want input about what the future (of Tempe policing) looks like," Woods said.

Reach the reporter at and follow @kevinpirehpour on Twitter. 

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