Department of Justice Urged to Release Philly Police Shooting Review Details to the Public – Not Just Police

City Council chambers during a public forum on officer-involved shootings held July 10 2014. Photo by Kenneth Lipp

City Council chambers during a public forum on officer-involved shootings held July 10 2014. Photo by Kenneth Lipp

By Kenneth Lipp

Six months after a public forum was held at City Hall for the public to voice concerns to Department of Justice representatives and third-party researchers contracted to review Philadelphia Police officer-involved-shootings (OIS), details of the review’s findings have been provided to the police department, but no report has yet been released to the public. Philly’s civilian law enforcement watchdog, the Police Advisory Commission, sent a letter today urging the DOJ to disclose its initial findings to the public, warning that “providing the details of the review to police while delaying the public release of the report threatens to undermine the integrity of the process.”

The DOJ review, conducted by researchers from CNA Corporation, was requested by Philly PD Commissioner Charles Ramsey in 2013 after the 125th Philly police officer involved shooting in 2 years. During the public forum in July of last year attendees were told that the first report would be publicly available by late December 2014.

During Commissioner Ramsey’s tenure as chief of Washington DC Police his department inexplicably ceased reporting OIS shooting numbers to the DOJ. His successor Chief Cathy Lanier said the reporting statistics were a “nightmare” when she took over in 2007, referring press to Commissioner Ramsey for an explanation for the suspension of reporting. Ramsey declined to comment. The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund has denounced Ramsey’s appointment to co-chair President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force based on what they say is a record of rights abuses by the DC police under the current PPD Commissioner.

The letter from PAC Executive Director Kelvyn Anderson, addressed to Director Ronald Davis of the DOJ Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) who was present at the 2014 forum, notes that the police department has been “extensively briefed” and has enacted new policies based on the review’s findings. Anderson expressed the Commission’s strong support of the call for the review and for the collaborative reform model. However, the letter admonishes, the lengthy delay in public release of the review’s details has the potential to totally subvert citizen confidence in the process.

Anderson writes in his letter to COPS Director Ronald Davis:

[R]eleasing details to the public undermines citizen participation and transparency, two of the most important components of the collaborative reform process. The individuals and organizations that brought very serious concerns and testimony to the table around police shootings in Philadelphia are anxious to evaluate the outcome of the review for themselves. ….[T]he formation of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing…[and] the ongoing reviews your office has undertaken in Philadelphia, Baltimore, MD and Spokane WA hold tremendous potential for very specific improvements in the short term, but only if citizens believe that collaboration means their views, input and evaluations of the process are as valuable as those offered by law enforcement.

The forum held last July was an opportunity for Philadelphians to share their concerns and experiences with OIS and police violence, and many expressed loud anger and skepticism regarding the effectiveness and earnestness of the review.

Read the Commission’s letter to the COPS office here.

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About Kenneth Lipp

Kenneth is a writer and researcher. He’s from Alabama, and will not apologize for it. He moved to Pennsylvania in 2012, but has been in love with Philadelphia since a late-night stroll down Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum in July of 2011 with the love of his life. He is interested in telling Philadelphia’s dynamic and absolutely unique stories with the zeal of a constantly enamored newcomer. Kenneth is also passionate about government transparency and protection of whistleblowers, most notably PFC Chelsea Manning. His research and reporting on law enforcement and surveillance have been featured in various publications, including Rolling Stone (Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters) and Popular Science (Boston Tested Crowd-Watching Software That Catalogues People's Skin Color). His training is in both genetics and history and he likes the joke about being a helicase and unzipping your “genes.” He’s driven to know, and thinks you can handle, the truth. Follow him on Twitter @kennethlipp.

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