“A more professional organization,” cited as reason why Philly cops wouldn’t have overreacted like their counterparts in Ferguson.
Philly cops don’t have the reputation of being friendly, outgoing or peaceful people, especially now when controversial videos and stories seem to surface almost daily that highlight misconduct and corruption.
If anything, the Philadelphia Police Department – at least in the eyes of those in the black community who’ve I spoken to overtime – is often perceived as the enemy of the people.
“They’re seen as an occupying force in our community, said Reuben Jones, a black male community leader who I interviewed after his mentee was allegedly shot in the back by a Philadelphia police officer in early October of 2014.
The sentiment of mistrust and even sometimes discontent was repeated in various phrasings by people who testified in City Hall earlier this year in front of representatives from The Department of Justice.
Paula Peebles, who chairs the Philadelphia chapter of the National Action Network and who was very visible in the case of Darrin Manning – a Philadelphia teen who alleged a white female officer squeezed his testicles and caused him to need emergency surgery – painted a picture of black and brown people living in constant fear of those who had sworn to protect and serve them.
The perception of violent and unpleasant aside, the Philadelphia Police Department is also looked at as an “impenetrable force” – words provided by City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who in an exclusive interview earlier this year with Techbook Online revealed how he can’t measure or track the financial viability of programs like stop-and-frisk because the department won’t release any of their data.
The Philadelphia Police Department’s lack of transparency was acknowledged and confirmed by Kelvyn Anderson, Executive Director, Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, who tells me that prior to the department’s recent release of office-involved shooting data, that “they had never said anything about fatal shootings.”
Mr. Anderson says he’s been very consistent in his lobbying efforts to make the department more transparent. He says he even wrote Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey a letter requesting data about officer-involved shootings, but it wasn’t until the Department of Justice got involved that things began to move forward.
But despite all those really big challenges, Mr. Anderson is comfortable saying that if Michael Brown was shot in the streets of Philadelphia and a large-scale protest followed, Philadelphia police officers wouldn’t have responded the way those in Ferguson, Missouri, did.
“It’s a much more professional department,” he says, while refusing to blatantly call those police officers operating in Ferguson amateurs.
Mr. Anderson did, however, say that most police leaders he knows were “horrified” by what they saw in Ferguson and that the tactics used against peaceful protesters were certainly “extreme.”
Mr. Anderson was very clear in articulating what separates Philadelphia police from those in Ferguson: access to training, materials and best practices. He said most people don’t realize it, but policing is a very local function in the U.S., and that large departments like Philly, New York and Chicago are the exception, not the rule.
Because most department are so small, he says, they can’t necessarily retrain officers and adapt their tactics to successfully interact with new demographics, which Mr. Anderson believes is critical to great policing.
“It’s important to look at the changing demographics and how that impacts policing. Large forces have recognized that… in a city as diverse and large as Philly… you to have to respond to people and the changes.”
Not solely looking at the case of Michael Brown, Jr., but on the entire set of circumstances, Mr. Anderson remains convinced that a large contributor to what happened in Ferguson was the “changing demographics and the lack of education for officers.”
Mr. Anderson’s theory may be tested sooner than later, as many activists in Philadelphia have begun circulating flyers that invites people to meet at City Hall the day after the decision by the grand jury is announced. When asked if he thinks local officials are concerned about what may go down in Philly, Mr. Anderson replied:
“Any (police) leader would be concerned in this climate, but we’ll only make the problem worse by overreacting.”
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