Research from Collaboration of Arizona Law Schools Shows Discrepancies in Police Transparency, Calls for New Legislation

Jan. 16, 2024
Police lights

Led by University of Arizona Professor of Law Jordan Blair Woods, a recent collaboration between Arizona law schools revealed inconsistencies in the publicly-available police data on public complaints and other incidents while offering suggestions for legislative reforms to police transparency that would consider the state’s unique policing needs.

The team’s article, “The Need for a Comprehensive Police Data Collection and Transparency Law in Arizona,” published in the Arizona State Law Journal, noted that the types of data collected by urban agencies with greater resources differs greatly from that available from smaller municipalities and tribal jurisdictions.

A 2021 Arizona law requires law enforcement agencies in the state to collect and report data on officer use of force, but according to Woods, there is still wide variation among police forces on data collected and released.

Greater transparency among larger agencies

As part of the project the team pored through the websites of around 120 law enforcement agencies in the state, including city, county, campus, airport, state and tribal agencies. 

Their research found that more than half of the agencies studied did not release data on any of the three categories considered: police-civilian encounters, use-of-force incidents or complaints of officer misconduct. City police departments and county sheriff’s offices provided more information than the other types of agencies surveyed. The article also highlighted challenges unique to the state of Arizona, such as concerns relating to tribal law enforcement agencies, which often do not have the same level of resources as other jurisdictions. 

The article concluded that the research indicates the need for a comprehensive police data collection and transparency law in Arizona. It looked to California’s Racial Identity and Profiling Act (“RIPA”), which requires agencies to report to the California Department of Justice on all vehicle and pedestrian stops as well as all complaints, including those involving racial and identity profiling. It also examined model statutes proposed by the New York University School of Law’s Policing Project. The article also suggested that tribal agencies should be exempt from mandatory collection and reporting, but funds should be allocated to help agencies develop the infrastructure necessary for collecting and reporting.

Statewide Cooperation

Third-year University of Arizona Law student Devyn Arredondo is a co-author of the article, along with Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Professor Ashley Oddo and ASU Law student Yan Idrissov. The team came together because both schools are members of the American Bar Association’s Legal Education Police Practices Consortium, which facilitates cooperation among law schools nationwide to address legal issues in policing. Consortium fellowships funded Arredondo’s and Idrissov’s participation in the project.

With a master’s degree in forensic science and technology and employment experience as a police records specialist for the Tucson Police Department, Arredondo was well-suited to understand and analyze law enforcement record keeping. “We couldn’t have asked for a better fellow,” Woods said. “She just has so much experience about data collection on the ground.”

This project was particularly meaningful to Woods because of the substantive student involvement. During his time in law school, Woods worked as a research assistant for a criminal law professor, which set him on a path to academia. 

“Seeing the types of questions that my professor was answering and just the love for writing and research – which has always been something that has driven and motivated the work that I do – [becoming a professor] was always something that I saw on the horizon for me,” he noted.