PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - After the emotional verdict this week convicting a former Minneapolis police officer of murdering George Floyd, civil rights advocates are seizing the moment to renew calls for police reforms. Some reforms are already underway in Arizona, though community members want to ensure they are properly implemented.
"The community breathed a sigh of relief not because we felt that there's justice but because there's finally an opportunity for accountability," said Jacob Raiford of the W.E. Rising Project.
Raiford was among a group of community organizers who gathered Wednesday at Wesley Bolin Plaza, calling on elected officials and police leaders to enact critical reforms to keep Black and brown community members safe. "Check your bias, check your implicit racism because it is time to change and the time is now," said Kenneth Smith with the Unity Project.
One community organizer in attendance has played a role in police reforms already underway. "We're here to call for the decriminalization of blackness," said Janelle Wood of the Black Mothers Forum.
Wood was one of the community members who had a voice in newly approved changes to police academy training. Arizona's Family has learned curriculum approved by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training board adds 10 hours of firearms training dedicated to de-escalation, adds a new lesson on use of force addressing de-escalation, overhauls the community relations lesson to factor in components like empathy and compassion, and enhances instruction on helping people in a mental health crisis.
Wood said she is anxious to see how they are put into practice. "We can do the role play in the class, but that's with each other," said Wood. "The thing is when they're in a crisis situation with people that look like me."
Professor Michael Scott with ASU's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice says the updates are commendable. The former police chief questions whether the changes will have the intended impact. "The real challenge is getting from teaching particular skills or knowledge to seeing that reflected in the behavior and the actions of the police officer," said Scott.
Impact, Scott says, could depend on the instructor's approach and the language of the curriculum. "It doesn't tell us a great deal about what exactly is being done, what exactly is being taught in those added hours," said Scott.
The Phoenix Police Department said Wednesday it is reviewing the curriculum for implementation at the Phoenix Regional Police Academy. The department says it hopes to push out the new training later this year. Training is just one aspect of police reform. Community organizers are also speaking out against a bill making it a felony to participate in violent demonstrations. The group believes House Bill 2309 could be used to target, arrest and prosecute peaceful protestors. They are asking people to contact Gov. Doug Ducey's office to express their concerns with the bill.
Wood says community response has fueled change and likely made a difference in holding police accountable in George Floyd's murder.
"It's accountability, and guess who had to hold him accountable?" asked Wood. "It wasn't other police. It was the community."