Police Transparency Executive Order: The Good, the Bad and the Unknown

Declaration Staff

Earlier today, Mayor Jim Kenney announced a new executive order governing the processing of civilian complaints against police and public access to those complaints.

This new executive order was prompted by our Philadelphia Police Accountability Project and our conversations with the Managing Director’s Office to improve public access to citizen complaints.

This executive order makes some significant improvements on its predecessor. Information about complaints will be posted online so that the public no longer has to trek up to Dungan Road in the Northeast to view citizen complaint records.

These online postings will also make it signficantly easier to analyze the operation of the complaint process. Philadelphians deserve to know if public employees authorized to use force are properly held accountable, and if not, why not.

And Police Board of Inquiry disciplinary hearings should now be easier to observe as well. The previous executive order required all PBI hearings to be open when hearing cases which resulted from civilian complaints.

In practice, police officials and Fraternal Order of Police lawyers came up with myriad reasons to close these hearings. By specifying exactly when a hearing may be closed, the new executive order should crack down on this abuse.

However, there are significant problems and questions about the new executive order as well. First, the order exempts from release the names of all police officers except for their initials.

This is inconsistent with the City’s policy to name officers involved in shootings except when a credible threat exists to their safety.

And it is contrary to Mayor Kenney’s own statement on signing the executive order that “everyone who works for the City is a public servant.”

As public servants, officers should not be anonymous except when a credible threat to their safety exists.

Second, it is not clear whether the public can still choose to go up to the Northeast to view in-depth information about complaints if they choose. The executive order does not discuss this issue.

Without the ability to still access the actual records, the online posting of complaint information could become as unhelpful as the City’s online officer shooting summaries, which can be inaccurate and out of date.

The Declaration commends Mayor Kenney and his administration for being willing to address issues of police transparency, but more effort is needed.

We have asked for clarification on access to complaint records and we will also be submitting comments on the precise information that should be included in the online postings.

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