The Phoenix community is still reeling from the number of police shootings in 2018. 

Tensions remain high after the Phoenix Police Department led the country in shootings last year with a record-breaking 44, surpassing much larger cities like New York and Philadelphia.

During the six months of this year, police shootings are down significantly in both Phoenix and throughout the metro area.

Most departments saw a more than a 50% drop in the number of times an officer shot at someone, according to a database created by The Arizona Republic.

Phoenix saw an even more dramatic decrease. Phoenix officers have been involved in nine shootings through July 16 — a 70% drop from the 30 shootings during the same time period in 2018.

The Republic found law enforcement agencies in Maricopa County have been involved in 24 shootings so far this year. In contrast, there were 51 shootings countywide by the same time last year, and 81 by the year’s end. 

Here’s a breakdown for some of Maricopa County’s largest departments:

  • Phoenix police: Nine so far in 2019, 30 by this time in 2018.
  • Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office: Three so far in 2019, zero by this time in 2018.
  • Glendale police: One so far in 2019, two by this time in 2018.
  • Mesa police: Two so far in 2019, nine by this time in 2018.
  • Department of Public Safety: Two so far in 2019, one by this time in 2018.
  • Tempe police: One so far in 2019, one by this time in 2018.

What caused the decrease? 

It’s essentially impossible to identify an exact cause of the decrease — or the 2018 increase, for that matter. Experts say some changes from year to year are expected.

The nine Phoenix shootings so far in 2019 are more in line with other recent years, although still down some. The department saw 11 shootings during the same time frame in 2017 and 13 in 2016. 

It is too early to tell where Phoenix stands nationally so far this year. However, Phoenix has outpaced other comparably-sized cities for years, according to an investigation by The Republic. 

Phoenix had more shootings than Houston from 2011 through 2018 on a per capita basis. On average, Houston had 13 police shootings for every 1 million people. In contrast, Phoenix police had 17 shootings for every 1 million people. 

Houston’s numbers have steadily dropped over the past eight years, while Phoenix’s increased in 2016, dropped in 2017 and increased again in 2018.

Phoenix police have made an effort to identify the cause of the 2018 surge.

The department participated in a six-month review by the National Police Foundation. The completed reported highlighted a number of possible contributing factors, such as increased encounters with armed subjects, individuals experiencing mental-health crises and tense community relations. 

The department also sped up its rollout of body cameras to patrol officers. 

Other conflicts this year

The Phoenix Police Department’s already strained relationship with the community was pushed even further this year when an analysis of Facebook posts by officers in several communities around the country revealed racist and inflammatory commentary from 75 current Phoenix police officers and 22 retired officers. 

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams quickly pulled some of the officers off of their “enforcement assignments,” and the department is conducting internal investigations into some of the posts.

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Williams again expressed concerns following the release of video showing police pointing guns and yelling threats at Dravon Ames, 22, his pregnant fiancee, Iesha Harper, 24, and their two young daughters after the family said their daughter took a doll from a Family Dollar store.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said she was “sick” over what she saw in the video and called police officers’ behavior “completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional.”

All shootings are still under review

Each police shooting is reviewed by the involved police department or an outside agency. The findings are then forwarded to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which will determine whether the use of force was justified or if the officer should face criminal charges.

At this point, all 2019 cases are still under investigation or review by the county attorney. 

That includes the fatal January shooting of 14-year-old Antonio Arce by Tempe police Officer Joseph Jaen. Jaen was responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle possibly used in a burglary in a neighborhood alley when Arce fled from the officer holding what appeared to be a gun. 

Body-camera video shows Jaen firing at Arce twice as Arce ran away from the officer. The teen did not appear to turn around or point a weapon at Jaen. 

An airsoft gun that still had the orange tip used to indicate the weapon wasn’t lethal was found under Arce’s body. 

Historically, most shootings in Maricopa County, the state and throughout the country are cleared, meaning the officer is not charged with a crime for firing his or her weapon.

Maricopa County Attorney Montgomery has only charged one officer with murder in connection with an on-duty shooting.

Then-Mesa Officer Philip “Mitch” Brailsford was charged in the 2016 shooting of an unarmed Texas man, who was on his knees, begging for his life in a hotel hallway while multiple officers pointed weapons. 

A jury found Brailsford not guilty.

Reach public safety reporter Bree Burkitt at [email protected] or at 602-444-8515. Follow her on Twitter at @breeburkitt.

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