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Pima County Sheriff opens up about policing reform

"Law enforcement isn't always about enforcing the law"
Posted: 11:50 PM, May 18, 2021
Updated: 2021-05-19 08:42:31-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos released criminal justice reform goals for his department on Tuesday.

Those include body cameras for deputies, the creation of a regional Critical incident team, and the creation of a citizen review board.

They also include the use of more ankle monitors to keep low-level offenders out of jail and a push against the cash bail system in Pima County.

KGUN 9 spoke with Sheriff Nanos about each item in his plan and how they help accomplish his overall goal for the department.

On Body Cameras:

The department is asking for more than 400 body cameras for use by uniformed personnel. Those include traffic and motorcycle deputies, those on patrol, and SWAT and rescue teams. Sheriff Nanos says he's also pushing for some deputies to work in certain areas of the Pima County Jail to get body cameras.

Video: Body Cameras

"When body cameras first came on there was a push for it because it came out that we need body cameras to keep our cops in line -- put a camera on somebody and they're gonna act differently, behave differently. And although there may be some truth to that I just believe that that's a costly venture. A very expensive venture to make sure my deputies do what they're supposed to do. I didn't believe I had a problem with my deputies. I still don't. I think my deputies 99% of the time (they) do exactly what they're supposed to do. Does it mean we have some problems out there? Certainly, we do from time to time like everybody else. But when I look at what's going on across the nation and you realize now that everybody has a camera -- I mean everybody. And I can show you 'here's my video' and it shows 10 seconds of some event.

Wouldn't you want to know all of that event? If there's 30 seconds before or 40 seconds after? I, as a manager of this agency, would love to be able to see as much about it as I could so I can make the right decisions in those circumstances.

But the public should be able to want to see all of it, too. It's an evolution for me to think differently about body cameras. More important: my deputies now see the reason behind it, too. They want those cameras. They believe that 'hey look what you're seeing is actually what's going on. There's more to this story. Give me that camera it will protect us as well.'"

On the regional Critical Incident Team:

The creation of a regional Critical Incident Team is an effort by agencies across Southern Arizona to take the conflict of interest out of the equation when investigating the use of force by an officer. The team allows another agency to investigate the incident and make their report to the county attorney -- instead of the agency that's accused of wrongdoing. Nanos says it ensures there's no conflict in investigating officer-involved shootings and other incidents.

Video: On the regional Critical Incident Team

"We call it critical incident, but it's more generate to officer-involved shooting. But it could be....well Derek Chauvin wasn't an officer-involved shooting. There were no shots fired. It was a critical incident. and we've seen that at Tucson Police as well. We just believe like I said before, 99.9% of my deputies do the right thing at the right time. If I really believe that then I wouldn't have any problem having someone else come and investigate that. So, that's what we're trying to do. We investigate a lot of officer-involved shooting from the other agencies and we have an IGA (intergovernmental agreement) with several of our partner agencies here. The smaller agencies; Oro Valley, Pima College, South Tucson Marana, Sahuarita all of these are partners of ours. In different efforts, maybe it's a SWAT effort maybe it's a bomb squad, where resources can be pooled together during large events and share and help everybody out. We look at that for our critical incidents or our officer-involved shootings, one for transparency, to de-conflict your agency.

The acting agency would step aside and allow the other agencies to come in and take over and handle that investigation and get their perspective and they will present it to the county attorneys or the appropriate attorney's office to handle that.

So... it's just time. It's all part of what's going on in today's world. And to be honest with you we're not just limiting it to those smaller agencies. We have shared this idea with Tucson police and University of Arizona as well. So that maybe as a valley we can all come together as some sort of planning that says this is the model we want to use when investigating these types of situations and work with our county attorney's office and grow from there."

On Community Board:

The sheriff's department is implementing a board made up of diverse community members, led by Dr. Damond Holt. The board will be involved in some decisions made by the department including training, discipline, and internal investigation decisions.

Video: Community Board

"Nothing's in place now but I have met with several different community activists and community leaders.

I want to be as diversified as possible. I've turned the chairmanship of that board over to Dr. Damond Holt who is one of the leaders in the African American community here and he is reaching out to some people he knows and considers to be valuable to the community and to this board. So it should be and it will be as diversified as can be and that's all walks of life.

You can be a student at the University of Arizona... you can be a minister at any church here... just everywhere. I want as diversified as I can and have that board not just review our policies and our procedures which is important. But also go to our training center and see how we train and what is being taught and who is teaching and come back and report those. But even a bigger step for my agency would be... I want them involved in our officer-involved shooting boards where we actually have the investigation brought to us for internal purposes and they say 'here's what happened.' And we hear from that board and allow them some input just as we do our discipline panels. Just as we do our discipline panels. When we have a case that requires discipline it's investigated by our internal affairs... there's a panel of our chiefs, and our captains, and our commanders and our legal advisors and some of our association and union members. The board would also have some participation there as well just so that they can come to me after these events and make their recommendations to the sheriff."

On Ankle Monitors:

The sheriff told KGUN 9 ankle monitors are a high priority for him. He said they'll help shrink the jail population and keep low-level offenders out of jail.

Video: Ankle Monitors

"If I am letting people out of my jail every day to go to work then come back to jail and stay the night at a cost of $127 a day and yet I don't really know that you're going to work I'm just kind of hoping it because I don't have 200 cos that can follow you and verify that every day. Why wouldn't I have those people be on an ankle monitor where I can have one corrections officer monitor a screen and know where people are at. Literally, know that they're where they're supposed to be and at the end of the workday they are back home and that too is monitored by us. In other words, these people that are being sentenced to work-release -- work furloughs -- those kinds of issues. If you're the judge, and this is a conversation I've had with our judges and our county attorney If you're going to send somebody to a program like that it tells me that you trust them enough to do what's required of them. So why wouldn't we want to make it a little simpler? And let's be honest about this some of these people have been in our jail... the charges read disorderly conduct language/hand gesture. What does that tell you? I may not like the fact that somebody flipped me off but do you need to be in my jail for that? So those are the types of things where we can have a better handle on our inmates and know where they're at. And also, there's the other side of that. Jail is a very bad place.

People don't go to jail and come out better. It just doesn't happen. We know that now. If you've done something wrong and you need to be held accountable then do so, but if jail is not the place for you let's find a way to monitor that and keep you in line in a much more economical way.

The ankle monitor is $11 a day.... housing you at my jail is $127 a day. Literally millions of dollars we're spending. And these are low-level, non-violent, misdemeanors who, for the most part, can be at home and hopefully be held accountable for their actions and still we can monitor a jail that has some very bad people that exist in this world in the place they need to be and that's jail."

On the Cash Bail System:

Sheriff Nanos said he's speaking with the county attorney's office about changes to the bail system in our county, but any changes on that would ultimately not come from his office.

Video: Cash Bail System

"When I came in in January we were averaging about 1,600. Now we're around 1,500. I really believe we can get down 1,300 if we really look at things right and cut them down. Ankle monitors is just part of it. There's another part of it and that's bond. Remember, 80%-85% of those people in our jail are there waiting for trial. They are, as we say, innocent until proven guilty. They can't afford a bond. And the bond can be so small but it doesn't matter if I don't have $20 in my pocket I'm not going to be able to get out of jail. It's not just me, the courts, the county attorneys, the defense attorneys we all look at it the same way.

When does your freedom depend on the size of your wallet? It shouldn't happen.

So, bond is another issue. The county has come up with a bonding program themselves. I think there are states in this country all along the East coast, I think New Jersey is a good example... New York has a no-bail system. If you've committed a violent crime or are accused of committing a violent crime or you've hurt somebody or threatened to hurt somebody you're in jail. But if you committed shoplifting maybe we just release you out, put an ankle monitor on you, and tell you to come back to court. I can only make suggestions. That's the court's job to decide bail. That's between the attorneys... the defense and prosecutors to argue those things. I just think that we could do a better job by reducing our jail size and the imprint in our community, not just for those who are awaiting trial but also for their families and those around them that are impacted by this as well."

On taking policing from "Warrior" to "Guardian":

Sheriff Nanos wants to take policing from the more aggressive "warrior mindset" to a mindset more focused on community protection and safety.

Video: On taking policing from "Warrior" to "Guardian"

"When I look at policing. I've been at it for well over 40 years and I've seen from the 70's all the way through... different styles of not just policing but of managing and supervision in police work I just think we can always do better. As a boss isn't that our job? To sit back and say 'how could I do better? How can I improve on what we're doing today?' And so when we talk of a warrior mindset and a guardian mindset that's the culture of your organization. Naturally, it starts with the training center. Well, actually the training center is where you put it. And to grow it but it really starts right here at the top of the organization. What do I see as a police officer? I see a police officer as someone whose out there to help you not to arrest you every time. Do we make arrests? Absolutely there's going to be those times. Do I need to be a warrior sometimes? Yes. But we know now and we've known for decades that 95% of our police force and our police actions have very very little to do with law enforcement. Really does.

See, law enforcement isn't always about enforcing the law. When we go out to a traffic accident and someone is hurt and injured and we respond and we take care of that injured party that's not enforcing any laws. That's taking care of people. I go out at two in the morning to deliver some bad news to somebody that they've lost a loved one there's no laws being enforced there but that's law enforcement. I have to help somebody at every turn in law enforcement. So much of it is not enforcing the law. In fact, very little of it is enforcing the law. It's taking care of a community... it's taking care of our neighbors and making sure people are safe. That's law enforcement. That's a guardian.

Warriors, absolutely need them, when you need that tip of the spear and it's really going bad you need some warriors. But when we had the Gabby Giffords shooting I went there and I didn't see warriors. I saw guardians. Young men and women in uniform from all over this region. Fire departments... police departments... my own department. They were guardians that day. If they had to be a warrior they would have been but that day they were guardians, and most of the time that's what we are. We get there after the fact. We strive to help you. We sometimes pick up those pieces and make sure people are okay, dust them off, and do what we can to make them better. Sometimes you can't make everybody better. You can't make things better all the time for everyone. Little kids -- we know it -- they've got to be out there to mentor these kids not to arrest them. And they're there to help them get a better life ahead. But there's no better crime prevention than being involved with the youth of your community. and I've known that for decades. So that's a philosophy... a mindset that starts here but has to be spread throughout the department. And you use your training center as maybe your catalyst to get that seed and spread it out. If I do my job right hopefully others will see it and they'll do their job right. I guess that's leadership... right? Lead by example and that's what we hope to do."