Last month, Mayor Jim Kenney signed an executive order updating Philadelphia’s rules for access to civilian complaints against police. As we noted at the time, the new order improves public access by requiring certain data about complaints to be posted online and clarifying the rules about when the public can access police disciplinary hearings.
However, the new order was ambiguous on the question of whether the public could still access the full paper investigation files for complaints and it also contained an unnecessary setback for police accountability by censoring the names of officers against whom complaints are filed.
Continuing access to full complaint files is necessary so that the public can make sure the data posted online are accurate, unlike the City’s data on police shootings, which are often incomplete and misleading.
Now, the City Managing Director’s Office has informed us that the public will still be able to access these records through Internal Affairs.
As a result, the Philadelphia Police Accountability Project is advancing to a new stage: we will no longer be directly obtaining large volumes of records from Internal Affairs. Instead, we will be monitoring the implementation of the executive order to make sure it fulfills its potential and advocating for further improvements.
When we announced this project, we wanted to create a database that the public could use to analyze trends in police complaints in this city. Now, thanks to our efforts, city officials will soon post this data themselves. And we will be submitting to the Managing Director’s Office a list of data points that must be included for the data to be meaningful. Without this outside input, the complaint data posted could easily turn out to be as useless as the City’s shooting data currently is.
We will also be advocating an end to the censorship of police officer names. There may be cases in which information about an officer ought to be withheld from the public if a specific threat exists to his or her safety. Naming names of police officers who are subject to complaints poses no such danger. In fact, it permits the public to learn which officers engage in patterns of misconduct that endanger public safety.
Everyone who serves the public, especially those we entrust with making highly discretionary decisions about deadly force, must be accountable to those they serve. This executive order is a step in the right direction, but more is necessary. The Declaration will continue to advocate for the public’s right to know what its servants are up to. Please stay tuned for further news on this front.
If you are interested in accessing Internal Affairs records with more detail than those posted online by the City, contact the IA using the information on this page and ask to speak to someone about accessing Complaints Against Police (CAPS).