Deadline looms on plan to block ID after police shootings

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A bill that would require Arizona law enforcement agencies to temporarily keep secret the names of police officers who shoot suspects will become law or be rejected Monday.

Gov. Doug Ducey faces an end-of-day deadline to act on the proposal that would delay identifications for 60 days, a measure prompted by police use-of-force cases, including the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which drew intense criticism and widespread protests.

State legislatures across the nation have been looking at police-transparency laws since Brown's Aug. 8 shooting death by former police officer Darren Wilson, whose name was released a week later.

Several states are considering requiring police to wear body cameras or mandating that shooting investigations be done by outside agencies. But Arizona is apparently the only state considering new rules for releasing the names of officers, according to Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Ducey, a Republican, faces pressure to veto the measure from police chiefs who say the plan would only to harm their ability to manage complex police-community relations. Civil rights groups and media organizations also oppose the plan.

Police unions, however, support the bill, saying the required two-month delay will give time for complex investigations to play out. They call it a common-sense measure that will ensure officer safety.

Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor wrote to Ducey last week in his role as president of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police urging the veto.

In an interview, he said it would be wrong to ignore "the elephant in the room" of poor police-community relations that has been the highlight of much law enforcement news coverage in the past year.

"Enacting legislation that would hamper that trust by not allowing officers' names to be released is not in my opinion the best way to improve or repair that level of trust," Villasenor said.

The bill does not preclude "the community's right and desire to know what their police department is doing," Joe Clure, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, said last week.

Republican lawmakers who back the proposal said it is designed to protect officers.

"The simple fact remains that we live in a world where misinformation can put everybody in jeopardy, especially police officers," state Sen. John Kavanagh said last week. "And until we get those facts straight, we need to shield those cops and their families from being assassinated by lunatics or political zealots."

Currently, Arizona public-records laws require the release of an officer's name as soon as possible, unless the agency cites specific reasons for a temporary delay. In practice, agencies typically release the name within several days but can hold off indefinitely if the officer's safety is in jeopardy.

Ducey's office has not indicated whether he supports or opposes the bill. He could sign it into law, issue a veto or take no action, which would allow the proposal to go into effect based on the Legislature's support.

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