Expect movement on bill to overhaul Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission before end of year, says lawmaker.
The protesters who staged a die-in at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and then took over the streets of Center City before crashing a tree lighting ceremony in the courtyard of City Hall didn’t have any demands for lawmakers, nor were they interested in negotiating policy, they were simply reminding the public, in the most vocal and obtrusive way possible, that black lives matter.
“They aren’t feeling the spirit of the moment,” said Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., “they should be able to protest this way… if this supersedes the spirit of the holiday than so be it.”
Councilman Jones, particularly his bill to bolster the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission by making it a totally independent agency with a budget of a million dollars, has been the topic of conversation among community activists the aftermath of Ferguson. The call for more checks and balances – including civilian oversight – when it comes to policing has never been louder and it seems that Philadelphia City Council is hearing the message and taking action.
“Post Ferguson, the bill has gotten heightened priority … the public can expect to see movement on it before the close of the year,” the councilman tells Techbook Online exclusively.
Councilman Jones called the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission “one of many tools we need to engage” and offered up body cameras – which are being piloted in the 22nd Police District – and communication as accompanying narratives.
“It can’t just be us versus them… we got to do this together,” he asserted, subtly suggesting that both police and community members should break away from the normality of offense and defense and take steps to embrace and understand.
Though nationwide it may be true that police and community members only interact when something is wrong and that a strong divide exist between law enforcement and the taxpayers, in Philadelphia there’s a unique and consistent opportunity, though not popularized or highly publicized, for the public to engage the policing process, ask questions and make suggestions.
It’s called a Police Service Area meeting, they happen several times a month in communities across the City and Mr. Kelvyn Anderson, Executive Director, Police Advisory Commission, says he sees “quite a good number of folks participating.”
Where Mr. Anderson lives, in the 12th Police District, those meetings take place up to five times a month.
“I credit Commissioner Charles Ramsey for making those officers available for meetings when there’s no problem going on,” said Mr. Anderson, who though satisfied with the modest turn out these events render, would like to hear more from taxpayers about what community policing should look and feel like in Philadelphia.
Some people I’ve spoken to about community policing in the City would simply like to see more officers who live in their neighborhoods – black males in particular -wearing shields and doing patrols.
A fair request, but given the changes in the requirements needed to join the force, it may not happen anytime soon. In fact, Mr. Anderson confirmed that Commissioner Ramsey expressed great concerned about the lack of black male officers in last year’s budget hearings.
“Members of City Council are also concerned about the make up of the force,” he said, noting that its been nearly a decade since the Philadelphia Police Department executed a coordinated, citywide effort to recruit black male officers.
The lack of diversity aside, Mr. Anderson thinks Commissioner Ramsey has been top-notch in changing the disciplinary code, modernizing the department, reforming police practices and lowering the rate of fatal officer-involved shootings – in 2014 the number is estimated at 10.
However, despite a “good relationship,” Mr. Anderson says the Police Commissioner, who now co-chairs a special task force on 21st Century Policing organized by President Barack Obama, falls short in the area of transparency. And given the lack of teeth the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission is perceived to have, getting access to important data is almost impossible.
For example, Mr. Anderson informs me that every time an officer discharges their weapon or receives a complaint, the District Attorney looks at it first and if there’s a problem, they move forward with investigations. The Firearms Review Board also looks at instances were officers discharged their weapons, however the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission isn’t included in either process.
“Those are critical components to transparency. We have no idea what the Firearms Review Board says nor how the District Attorney decided,” says Mr. Anderson.
In less than a month, if what Councilman Jones says is true, the aforementioned challenges of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission will be a thing of the past and a new system, one of greater transparency, checks and balances and civilian oversight of police, will be its replacement.
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