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Phoenix Police Chief addresses gun violence before Senate Judiciary Committee

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams talked exclusively to Arizona's Family DC bureau reporter Peter Zampa following her testimony to senators.
Published: Jun. 15, 2022 at 4:33 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams sat among a panel addressing gun violence before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Chief Williams, who also serves as the President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), addressed lawmakers from the perspective of local law enforcement.

In her opening statement, Chief Williams made a last-minute addition to her planned speech, telling the senators that just one day ago, one of her officers was shot. Police say that two masked men ambushed a Phoenix Police Detective as she sat in her car, firing 19 rounds. “Yesterday in Phoenix, the ninth of one of my officers was shot in the line of duty. Had it not been for her vest that she was wearing, I wouldn’t be sitting here today,” Williams said. The detective who was shot is in stable condition at a Phoenix hospital, according to a Phoenix Police spokesperson.

Rise in Gun Violence

Williams went on to address the rise in gun violence, particularly in major cities. Williams said every major city in the U.S. is seeing a rise in violent crime, citing evidence of a steady rise in both homicides and aggravated assaults over the past few years. In recent weeks, the country has seen several mass shootings in cities such as Buffalo, Laguna Woods, Tulsa, Phoenix, Chattanooga, Philadelphia, and others. Williams also cited the Uvalde shooting in Texas where 19 children and 2 teachers were shot and killed at Robb Elementary School.

In Phoenix on May 29, 1 man was killed and 5 others were hurt at a house party in west Phoenix. Six days later, a 14-year-old girl was killed and 8 others were hurt during a mass shooting at a strip mall in north Phoenix. Williams explained that while homicides slightly decreased during the first quarter of this year when compared to last year, there has been an increase in aggravated assaults. And despite the decreases in the first quarter of this year, Chief Williams explained when comparing the data for the past few years there is a clear sign of urban areas experiencing heightened levels of gun violence. According to the MCCA’S Violence Crime report, homicides in the first quarter of 2022 are still up approximately 56%, and aggravated assaults increased by about 22% when both are compared to the first quarter of 2019.

Gun Violence Affecting Youth

Aside from the recent mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Chief Williams discussed how gun violence is impacting the youth in several ways. Over the past few years, the Gun Violence Archive shows that in 2019, there were 996 children (age 0-17) killed and another 2,824 injured by guns. In 2021, the numbers increased to 1,560 deaths and 4,134 injured, Chief Williams said. This is an increase of 56% in deaths and 46% in injuries. Chief Williams described how in Phoenix, over the last five years there have been about 80 children killed or hurt by gunfire on average. In 2020 and 2021, Chief Williams said the average in Phoenix increased to nearly 100 and says 2022 is on pace to match.

Chief Williams also cited that MCCA members have reported an increase in the number of violent crimes committed by teens and kids. She explained that youth in major cities, especially in communities of color, are growing up in areas impacted by gun violence on a consistent basis. Chief Williams told the committee that urban youths have become desensitized due to the regularity and persistence of gun violence in their communities; citing the impact of kids seeing family members, neighbors, and friends lose their lives to gun violence, as well as other kids committing shootings.

Recommendations to Stop Gun Violence

When it comes to curbing gun violence, Chief Williams and the MCCA listed several recommendations to the committee. The MCCA suggested Congress fully fund grant programs to address staffing shortages at police departments nationwide, as well as provide victim services. Chief Williams said grant funding was also needed for more investigating tools like gunshot detective technology and support to work through evidence backlogs. Programs like Project Safe Neighborhoods also need to incorporate local law enforcement perspectives partnered with federal authorities, Chief Williams said. Another recommendation from the MCCA was to increase the number of certified firearm examiners for state and local law enforcement agencies. Chief Williams said local police agencies often rely on the ATF to examine guns taken from crime scenes, which can sometimes take months for results to get back putting a strain on law enforcement’s ability to move forward in investigations.

To reduce gun violence among youth, Williams said on behalf of the MCCA that more needs to be more done to address the trauma and cycles of community violence that are desensitizing children. The MCCA wants children to have access to healthcare options, including mental health, education, and employment opportunities. Chief Williams told Senators that if state and local governments cant provide youth with these necessities, Congress should consider providing additional resources to help. The organization also believes that more need to be done to keep guns out of the hands of kids, like implementing common-sense reforms and safe storage requirements Chief Williams said. Finally, she says her organization also supports establishing a strong system for universal background checks to cover all firearm purchases in order to close significant gaps like internet sales and gun show loopholes.