We Want to Bring Down the Blue Wall

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The Roundhouse. Photo: Kristi Petrillo

By Dustin Slaughter

The Black Lives Matter movement has spurred demand for greater police accountability. Shining a light on how our uniformed public servants go about their jobs and interact with the public is unquestionably part of that demand.

With Philadelphia’s latest efforts at criminal justice reform guided by the Justice Department, combined with our city’s history of police scandals, it’s clear that our Police Department is no exception to this need.

One area of accountability that requires more scrutiny involves public complaints against police officers. The Philadelphia Police Department and other city officials to-date have ignored a Nutter-era executive order requiring they publish regular civilian complaint statistics. That’s about to change.

The Declaration is announcing the launch of the Philadelphia Police Accountability Project. We’ve started building a truly independent, publicly accessible database of civilian complaints lodged against the Philadelphia Police Department.

We believe that these source documents and eventual data sets will serve the public, activists, defense attorneys, and journalists. Knowledge and context in the streets, courtrooms, and news media, can power not just reform, but eventually, transformative change.

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It is our hope that this project will continue the public conversation around accountability and force greater change within the police department. Chicago journalism nonprofit The Invisible Institute, through their hard-fought victories in obtaining public complaints, has provided valuable insight into how often Chicago’s police discipline their own, and has identified officers that repeatedly abuse the public and tarnish the public’s view of their law-abiding colleagues.

We aim to continuously monitor how Philadelphia police officers interact with the public they are tasked with serving. The documents we’ve published today are a mere fraction of what the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau and Police Advisory Commission receives in a year.

But we believe that as we continue to obtain more records, ‘data-crunching’ these documents can begin to identify ‘repeat offender’ officers, detect trends in officer discipline within the department, and document any racial disparities in sustained versus otherwise dismissed complaints.

We also believe that the police department should welcome the opportunity to say, with documented evidence, that there truly are only “a few bad apples” in its ranks, and actually begin working to address structural flaws that allow repeat offender officers to continue operating within the force.

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If you cannot view our donate buttons because of your browser security settings, please donate here.

We have a very long way to go, and we can’t do this without your help. Our initial target involves one year of documents, or approximately 700 individual complaints. Because the department either can’t or won’t hand over digitized records to us, the cost of obtaining five years worth of these documents – which we plan to eventually publish – totals upwards of $5,000 in copying fees.

We are also looking into grants as funding sources, but as we explore this option, we can’t emphasize enough that we operate on a shoestring budget. Simply put, we cannot get this project going without assistance from you, the public we serve. Help us build a police accountability project Philadelphia can be proud of by donating what you can today – and please use the code ‘PPAP’ so we know that you want to support this project.

Thank you!

Ed. note: The documents below were given to us completely unredacted (with the exception of a complaint filed by a sexual assault victim), so we have taken the liberty of redacting all information that could be used to identify complainants, minors, and witnesses.

View the civilian complaints we’ve obtained so far.

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