Activists protest the drowning in Tempe Town Lake where police saw a man die


Corrections and Clarifications: A previous version of this story gave the incorrect budget amount for the Tempe Police Department. It’s about $107.5 million.

Dozens of community members and activists gathered outside Tempe City Hall Thursday night to protest the approval of the city’s fiscal year 2023 budget, which allocates about $107.5 million to the Tempe Police Department.

The protest comes days after police released body camera footage showing officers refusing to help Sean Bickings, 34, who was struggling to swim and eventually drowned at Tempe Town Lake on May 28.

Members of several civil rights organizations, such as Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro, AZ Hugs for the Houseless and White People Against White Supremacy, have spoken out against the proposed funding for the police department.

“We are here again. Another community member has died,” said Joel Cornejo de Semillas, a Tempe-based social justice organization. “Most of these city council politicians ran their campaigns on sustainability, housing and programs for our homeless neighbours. So why is our community being killed by the police department? Why is our community always displaced? »

According to Austin Davis, founder of AZ Hugs for the Homeless, Bickings was an active member of the community, working with the organization when they met with Tempe officials to address city issues and concerns.

“He was in meetings with myself and the mayor and other city officials, and he was actively using his voice and working and being there in that space, trying to provide ideas and to listen,” Davis said. . “I thought that was really wonderful.”

Two men proceeded to serenade the crowd as the protest turned into a vigil for Bickings. Organizers distributed petitions with talking points for the dozens of people who would speak at the city council meeting.

Temporary Police Budget

BLM Phoenix Metro, Semillas, White PAWS, and Poder in Action have created an alliance called “People’s Budget Tempe” with the goal of allocating a portion of the police budget to other city departments.

“The mission is to rally, build pressure and essentially block the budget because it does not adequately reflect the needs of the people of Tempe,” the group said in a written statement shared ahead of the protest. “The budget includes funds to hire 19 additional police officers, for a total of an additional $2.5 million, on top of the $100 million police are already spending on harassing blacks and browns.”

About $102 million of Tempe’s police budget for the coming fiscal year comes from the city’s general fund, while an additional $5.4 million comes from RICO funds and grants.

The group suggests that money for additional officers should instead be spent on food and gardening programs in low-income areas of Tempe and permanent mental health counselors for Tempe colleges.

This proposed police budget reduces police funding overall by about $2 million because the refunding will allow the city to spend less on police pensions, Tempe Budget Director Mark Day said. at The Arizona Republic.

The spending plan contains approximately $4 million more for salaries, benefits, supplies and services.

The 19 police employees Tempe plans to hire will fill positions that already exist but have remained vacant over the past year because officials “froze” hiring during the pandemic.

The empty spots include nine sworn officers and two dispatchers, as well as eight community responders who “are not public safety forces” and instead assist cops on “non-violent calls for duty,” according to Day.

According to Cornejo, BLM Phoenix Metro and Semillas have worked with the city in the past to help create programs that would respond to 911 calls about mental health, domestic violence and homelessness, among other issues.

“There are a lot of programs the city has and we think it would be easier to divert police money and fund those areas,” Cornejo said. “One was a college tip, and another split calls for the police department and CARE 7.”

CARE 7 is a program of the city’s human resources department. “We meet with clients at the point of crisis in their lives and we continue our support, assistance and referrals throughout healing and recovery,” the town’s page reads.

The protest organizers’ call to action was to divert funds from the police and to other programs like CARE 7.

Drowning prompts revision of police protocol

In a statement late Monday, Tempe said it would review police water response protocols, officer equipment needs and the placement of lifesaving equipment near bodies of water. .

‘Don’t jump after you’:Tempe Town Lake drowning triggers protocol investigation

“It’s horrible to see this level of callousness, apathy and inaction,” said Jacob Raiford of the WE Rising Project, a group that has organized dozens of protests against police brutality over the past few years. “An innocent man did not deserve to lose his life because these officers chose not to help.”

Raiford is a member of the Public Safety Advisory Task Force, which was first convened by Tempe Mayor Corey Woods shortly after he took office in 2020 in a bid to tackle reform of the font.

Community leaders, social service experts and former elected officials who work on the task force provided the city with more than a dozen recommendations last year to address law enforcement issues that may have a disparate impact on black and Latino residents.

Policy changes suggested by the group included hiring social workers to help officers when dealing with a mentally ill person and taking steps to increase accountability during use of force investigations.

Sean Bickings, 34, holds a dog in an undated photo.

“We’re still in the development phase because it takes a while for things to be implemented,” Raiford said of the task force’s work, adding that they still meet “periodically” and have met for the last time in April. “It’s an ongoing thing, but this is where we put the planning into action and start holding these officers accountable for their actions.”

The Tempe Officers Association said its members offered their condolences to Bickings’ loved ones.

The union noted that Tempe officers did not have the necessary equipment to perform water rescues safely without risking an officer being pulled or pushed underwater. Instead, protocol is to call the fire department or have a Tempe police boat come to the scene, which the union says officers did.

The union also said interactions between Bickings and the officers involved remained cordial and he was free to leave at any time. The union also promised to work for new solutions in the way officers deal with water rescues.

“Going forward, we will work for a change in how the city and TPD address potential water-related incidents at Tempe Town Lake, including instituting training and equipment changes,” said the union in a written statement. “We will work with the City and the community to ensure that such an incident never happens again.”

Contact criminal justice reporter Miguel Torres at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mtorrestweet.

Contact Sam at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @KmackSam.

Contact reporter Perry Vandell at 602-444-2474 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @PerryVandell.

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