Arizona State University study says COVID-19 affected Tempe police more than George Floyd

The coronavirus pandemic has had a far greater effect on the Tempe Police Department than the 2020 murder of George Floyd, according to an Arizona State University study released this week.

Critics may suggest it’s a bold claim to make for a single research study and expose the injustice of comparing a global health crisis to a political justice movement spurred by the police killing of a black man.

But the ASU criminology professor took a deep dive and tracked police trends from 2017 to 2021. The wealth of data included police calls for service, crimes reported, police presence in the community, traffic accidents and arrests.

Researchers also reviewed body camera footage of 475 police interactions and measured the use of force, an ongoing issue advocates allege against the Tempe Police Department.

When Joel Cornejo was 11, a Tempe police officer pointed a loaded gun at him inside a college, he claims. That’s why he founded Semillas AZ, a human rights group based in Tempe.

“The Tempe Police Department hides behind the liberal front that the city likes to show,” Cornejo said. Phoenix New Times. “The reality is that the city is overfunding the Tempe Police Department. The Tempe police do what they want with no accountability.”

Tempe Mayor Corey Woods, who is a black man, was elected to serve the townspeople in March 2020 and is still in office. Woods did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The pandemic has had a drastic effect on the daily lives of people in the valley. Financial difficulties, isolation and disrupted routines may have been overshadowed by the loss of loved ones, depression and deteriorating physical health.

Last month the United States passed a worrying milestone – the lives of more than 900,000 Americans were stolen by the deadly virus, on track to claim 1 million lives next month.

“The pandemic has changed every aspect of policing,” said Michael White, professor of criminology and criminal justice at ASU and lead author of the recent study.

Police have borne the brunt of responding to the reality of the pandemic, enforcing stay-at-home orders while reducing community outreach projects, pedestrian stops and overall police presence.

“Nobody likes bad cops more than good cops.”

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Meanwhile, the Tempe Police Department was struggling with a staffing shortage as more officers were incapacitated by the virus as waves of infections kept workers away from the field.

Mask mandates not only for the public but also for officers have become a challenge for the Tempe Police Department, Detective Natalie Barela said.

“The face covering requirement made it difficult for us to have that personal, face-to-face connectivity with people,” Barela said. new times. “We respond to people in crisis. We want to be empathetic and a lot of that has to do with facial expressions.

Just two months after Arizona and much of the nation began the social and economic lockdown, a stark reminder of the long history of police brutality against black people has occurred.

Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man as they attempted to arrest him on suspicion of floating a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. Both peaceful and at times violent anti-police protests erupted in the city and spread across the country.

The consequences of this incident for national policing were arguably the most significant in American history, supporters say.

“The killing of George Floyd and other black Americans by police has sparked unprecedented police scrutiny, protests and calls for funding,” said White, the researcher who is white himself. “These have occurred against the backdrop of the pandemic, to which police have responded in multiple ways, and the killings and the pandemic have coincided with a sharp rise in violent crime.”

Data released by the FBI shows a 30% increase in murders in the United States during the pandemic.

Researchers have predicted a drastic drop in property crime during the lockdown, but economic depravity has also led to an increase in thefts and burglaries.

The effect of the pandemic and Floyd’s death on crime has been mixed, according to the study which was peer-reviewed and published in an academic journal.

It was not immediately clear where the funding for the research study came from as it appears to have been part of ASU’s regular research program, not supported by an outside group attempting to influence the results at political purposes.

Researchers noticed a significant decrease in all reported crimes when COVID-19 first emerged in Arizona. This temporary pause in all reported crimes lasted for months after Floyd’s death.

Arrests were halved and traffic crashes fell nearly 60%, with police responding to 22% fewer citizen-initiated calls and 11% fewer officer-initiated calls. It’s probably because so few people were driving on the roads and working from home instead.

“Vehicle stops have become a challenge,” Barela said. “People were afraid of this close contact.”

The fallout from Floyd’s death was different, researchers and cops agreed.

While the government’s response to the pandemic widely accepted that major changes to modern life would be needed to keep the public safe, there was more dissent as advocates demanded less aggressive police interaction with communities in color.

For example, the Tempe Police Department had already put measures in place to prevent a similar tragedy in Tempe. And maintained that was enough.

These measures were reinforced when the city established the Tempe Public Safety Advisory Task Force in October 2020.

“George Floyd gave us the opportunity to sit down, consider things and have tough conversations,” Barela said.

As calls for service and traffic accidents plummeted in frequency, officer productivity “decline precipitously” and the use of force among Tempe officers increased in the weeks following Floyd’s death, according to the data.

“Nobody likes bad cops more than good cops,” Barela said. “It hurt a lot of us to see how much the actions of those few officers really affected everyone.”

The department ranks last of more than 13,000 local agencies nationwide in investigating complaints of discrimination and more than half of those who have died after interactions with Tempe police officers are unarmed, according to Police Scorecard, a national police conduct data clearinghouse.

Tempe police have used more deadly force against people of color than 95% of U.S. police departments, according to FBI data.

The department also ranks last among Arizona’s 83 law enforcement agencies, according to Police Scorecard.

“The Tempe police do what they want with no accountability.”

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Barela declined to answer questions about the police scorecard results, but mentioned the department wants to “get back to community policing.”

“That’s the direction we want to take,” the detective said.

Barela sees ASU’s criminology researchers as a community-building resource, not a watchdog peering into the department across the street.

“They help us provide better service to the public,” she said.

There is “a possible interactive effect between the pandemic and Floyd’s death,” the ASU study found, but the changes that have occurred since the pandemic began are much more pronounced in Tempe, the eighth largest city in Arizona.

“The study results highlight the localized effects of these events,” said White, the lead researcher. “This study tells the story of a city, but it has implications for policy beyond Tempe.”

Cornejo, the community activist, would rather see public health take a back seat to racial inequality in the police department.

“Programs that bring public health resources to the community help the community stay safe,” he said. “Not the police.”