Kenney’s Secretive Turn on Police Accountability (UPDATED)

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Philadelphia City Hall. Photo: Kristi Petrillo/The Declaration

By Dustin Slaughter and Austin Nolen

Appended below.

UPDATED: In a surprise reversal hours after publication, Kenney spokesperson Lauren Hitt confirmed that district and unit information contained in police complaints WILL remain public information.

The Kenney administration last week took its commitment to more transparent government and police accountability two steps backwards.

After we launched the Philadelphia Police Accountability Project, an administration spokesperson contacted us to request that we redact the districts and units to which officers listed in complaints belong. We declined to do so. Going forward, the administration says it will no longer release this information to the public.

For five years, the city has released these records, with few redactions, to the public and members of the news media upon request through an executive order enacted by then-Mayor Michael Nutter.

Citing ‘officer safety’, but failing to point to even one incident in which this information has endangered uniformed public servants, the current administration now believes that taxpaying residents have no right to know which officers police their neighborhoods.

We understand the sensitivity of detailed assignment information which could allow individuals to target police or thwart patrols. District and unit assignments, however, are broad categories which are essential to public understanding of the operation of the Philadelphia Police.

Without this information, the public has no way of learning whether a particular police district has more problem officers than the next, or whether a specific investigative unit has flaws not seen among other detectives.

Mayor Jim Kenney says he opposes FOP-backed legislation in Harrisburg that would significantly delay the release of officer names who use excessive force, which makes the administration’s decision last week to withhold important information about individual officer assignments in Philadelphia all the more bizarre and frustrating.

One major goal of our accountability project will be to allow residents to review complaints attached to individual officers by district, but the city wants to stop this project in its tracks and deprive the public of valuable information regarding the police districts in which they live.

The Declaration will be discussing this project and the administration’s latest move and answering questions at the Police Advisory Commission’s next public meeting on November 21st at St. Joseph’s University. Councilman Curtis Jones will attend the meeting, and a representative from the Managing Director’s office has tentatively planned to be there too.

We are also weighing our potential legal options to remedy this unwarranted and secretive decision by the Kenney administration, and have brought the matter to the attention of a councilperson.

In the meantime, you can help us build a police accountability project Philadelphia can be proud of by donating what you can today, or if you have experience in coding and want to lend your expertise, please contact us.

Ed. note: Despite confirming earlier that the administration considered district and unit assignments to be sensitive information, a spokesperson emailed The Declaration minutes after this piece was published claiming that no decision has yet been made on whether to redact this information. We will provide you with updates going forward.

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