More than two years after the Philadelphia Police Department piloted its body camera program in the 22nd Police District – one of the city’s most challenged neighborhoods – and succeeding by a less than a month a press conference organized by Techbook Online on the steps of PPD’s HQ calling for a more transparent and collaborative body camera policy development process, the city will host a public hearing on the issue before year’s end, confirmed 4th District Philadelphia City Councilman Mr. Curtis Jones, Jr., last Friday evening.
Speaking to me through a gate which surrounded a basketball court where 2nd District Philadelphia City Councilman Mr. Kenyatta Johnson’s annual game to promote peace was in full swing, Mr. Jones, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, told me that Mr. Kelvyn Anderson of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission had reached out to him regarding hosting a hearing on the policies which govern body cameras, and that he’s behind the process wholeheartedly.
The issue that appears to be of the greatest concern to Mr. Anderson and Councilman Jones, both of whom were members of the now dormant Police Community Oversight Board – which is being re-imagined by the Kenney Administration and whose new organizational structure will be released also before year’s end – is that of footage storage and retention, which is the mostly costly apparatus connected to the implementation of body-worn cameras.
The police department, which has taken the position that it isn’t interested in holding a formal hearing on this issue because the Police Commissioner has been uber active in communities and has talked to many citizens and took their concerns and ideas into consideration when adopting a policy, will only hold general footage for thirty days, though any footage of an arrest or critical incident will be held indefinitely, Mr. Anderson, a civilian oversight practitioner, said.
Mr. Anderson, whose agency was excluded in the development of body-worn camera policy, believes the general footage should be held for at least 90 days in large part because of the nature of complaints. According to Mr. Anderson’s 7 year study (August of 2009 to August of 2015) of citizens complaints (a total of 4,465 were reviewed), 72% of complaints are filed 30 days after an incident. Furthermore, many other government systems, said Mr. Anderson, are geared towards holding data and information much, much longer than thirty days.
Councilman Jones, who twice introduced a bill to bolster the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission which never gained traction in Council, would prefer the City holds all the footage indefinitely, and his reasoning is related to potential cold cases and persons who may seek appeal months or years after a conviction.
“If Facebook and YouTube can do it, why can’t we?” he questioned.
Mr. Harlan Yu of Upturn – a Washington D.C. based technology firm that works with various social justice organizations and which recently, in collaboration with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released a body camera scorecard which graded many police departments’ policies on the technology, including Philadelphia’s – recommended footage be retained for 180 days, unless it’s relevant to an investigation, which in that case it should be “flagged and kept around as long as necessary.”
Mr. Yu’s firm is currently working on a 5-10 page report specifically on Philadelphia which is due to be released at the end of September, Techbook Online learned today during an exclusive interview. The report will offer best practices and highlight department policies that “Philadelphia should emulate,” Mr. Yu, who connected with Techbook Online after reading in The Philadelphia Tribune of its activism on this subject, disclosed to me this afternoon.
A similar report has been done for New York City, Minneapolis and other cities. Mr. Yu hopes that his report on PPD will somehow be integrated into the public hearing at City Hall or presented to the Police Commissioner, Mr. Richard Ross. Mr. Anderson today said Mr. Yu, who said retaining footage indefinitely would be an incredibly expensive burden on taxpayers, would be welcome to speak at the hearing and that its firms like his which has “driven” the Police Advisory Commission’s advocacy.
Mr. Anderson believes the police department, despite their opposition to a public hearing, will participate in the one that’s impending because they’re willing and wanting to demonstrate the technology. I reached out to the police department but didn’t receive a comment by press time.
The Mayor of Philadelphia, Mr. Jim Kenney, told Techbook Online this afternoon that unless he’s requested by Councilman Jones, he won’t testify at the hearing, as tradition has usually kept the Mayor’s Office out of such affairs. Mayor Kenney, however, did appear pleased that a hearing will soon commence and said “transparency and openness is always good for the process.”
Mayor Kenney added:
“The overall goal is that the community has a level of comfort with police activity.”
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Photo courtesy of the author.