New Details on Body Cameras, Gunshot Detection Surveillance Revealed During Police Budget Testimony

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By Dustin Slaughter

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, flanked by Deputy Commissioners Rick Ross and Christine Coulter, testified before City Council this morning seeking a $44.5 million increase of the department’s 2016 fiscal year budget.

According to Ramsey, the bulk of the requested funding hike stems from a new Fraternal Order of Police award, started in July of last year, that increases officer wages by 9.5% over the next two years.

Ramsey also spoke about the continuing struggle his police department faces in hiring new officers, particularly African American males. According to department figures released this year, just 18.6% of the police force is made up of African American males, with 33 new hires for the current fiscal year. Ramsey says that one significant hurdle in recruiting stems from seemingly daily reports of police abuse, particularly against African American males. While admitting he has no “hard data” to support this, he added that it is “just common sense.”

Another figure that stands out in the police department’s budgetary executive summary, however, is the increased number of female African American officers, composing nearly 35% of FY 2015 hires.

Police Advisory Commission Executive Director Kelvyn Anderson commended the department in this area. “This is not your father’s police department,” he told The Declaration. According to the latest Bureau of Justice Statistics figures he has reviewed, “that’s easily one of the highest percentages of females in law enforcement in the nation. This is progress.”

During testimony, Ramsey and his deputies provided new details about expanding the department’s body-worn camera pilot program; a new gunshot detection surveillance program already underway; and how they plan to implement the recommendations of two highly-publicized police reform reports in the wake of protests and political pressure both in Philadelphia and nationwide.

Justice Department, White House Task Force Reforms

The department intends to “combine” the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing report and Justice Department officer-involved shooting review and create what Ramsey calls a separate “matrix” for each of the over 90 recommendations offered by the White House and DOJ reports, an effort that would be led individually by one or more of his deputies, and include a timeline for completion. The Commissioner also told Councilman Kenyatta Johnson that the department plans to use “reality-based training”, or roleplaying, to retrain officers on use-of-force policy changes suggested by the Justice Department’s COPS report, with an emphasis on verbal deescalation.

Ramsey added that some of the reform implementations would likely face opposition from the often-controversial head of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, John McNesby. McNesby recently called the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing’s report a “a lot of wasted paper.” Ramsey, who chairs the task force, declined to elaborate on which policy reforms McNesby and the FOP might oppose.

An FOP representative did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The department also intends to enroll officers in the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Program (PLEAP). According to its website, PLEAP is “a progressive and time-proven way of helping institutions evaluate and improve their overall performance.”

Kelvyn Anderson told The Declaration that he is not familiar with this particular accreditation program, although he intends to consult with his Pittsburgh counterpart (the Pittsburgh Police Department is accredited through the program) about benefits and drawbacks

Out of approximately 1500 state law enforcement agencies, just 96 have gained accreditation through this program. Additionally, officer bonuses as part of the FOP award (mentioned above) are contingent, in part, on the police department passing this accreditation program.

Body Cameras

Commissioner Ramsey also testified today that the department’s body-worn camera pilot program, which started late last year in the 22nd Police District, is nearing wider deployment. By May, PPD intends to narrow its choice of camera models to just two, and is planning a 3,000 camera rollout over the next four years with federal grant money, adding that the biggest challenge comes from the cost of digital storage of footage and editing video to protect civilian privacy.

Gunshot Detection Surveillance

The Philadelphia Police Department appears to have already started contracting, unbeknownst to Council, with a company called Schneider Electric Buildings America, Inc. The contract totals just under one-half million dollars.

Deputy Commissioner Rick Ross told Council this morning that the Philadelphia Police Department has installed five gunshot detection sensors throughout the city, including parts of West Philadelphia. The devices are linked to pole-mounted police surveillance cameras, and according to Schneider’s website, appear to be based on infrared detection; when a muzzle flash is detected, the camera will pivot to the location of the gunshot.

Photo: Schneider-Electric.com

Photo: Schneider-Electric.com

Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., on behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke, recently brought a resolution before council to explore the use of another gunshot detection system, ShotSpotter, which unlike the infrared technology currently employed by PPD, utilizes audio to locate and pinpoint where a gun is discharged.

This would be the first resolution proposed since 2007 to float the idea of exploring use of the technology.

When reached for comment earlier this month on Clarke’s interest in bringing ShotSpotter to Philadelphia, his press spokesperson Jane Roh told The Declaration that Clarke was unaware of the police department’s current gunshot detection deployment.

ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark said during a recent phone interview that “someone on his team” had met with the Council president since 2007, although Clark himself has had no direct communication and claims he is not familiar with the details of that meeting.

ShotSpotter is currently used in cities such as Camden, NJ, which deployed the system in early 2014. While police there have credited ShotSpotter with helping to reduce gun violence, other cities have apparently not fared so well, and civil libertarians have raised concerns about invasion of privacy, due to the technology’s ability to record street conversations.

Kenneth Lipp contributed to this report.

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