By Austin Nolen
For much of the history of police oversight in Philadelphia, civilian review boards were required to reactively investigate individual complaints against particular officers, were frequently short-staffed and were limited to issuing discipline recommendations to the police.
Hans Menos, the recently-appointed Executive Director of the Police Advisory Commission, is looking to shift away from that reactive focus and to place the Commission on firmer footing after a turbulent year.
In January of 2017, Mayor Jim Kenney signed an executive order which gave the Commission responsibilities to review broader policies and practices of the Police Department.
Shortly thereafter, however, the Commission’s work was upended when then-Executive Director Kelvyn Anderson resigned, possibly because of allegations that he engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a woman seeking his assistance in a police complaint.
Anderson has not been charged with a crime.
Then, after Mayor Kenney appointed Erica Atwood as interim Executive Director, activists criticized the Commission for what they viewed as an ineffective response to the police shooting of David Jones last summer.
Menos was appointed as the new Executive Director in August, and the newly-appointed Commission members held their first meeting in October. After several months on the job, Menos spoke to The Declaration about the changes he has instituted at the Commission.
According to Menos, “the issues I want to look at are largely community driven. I want to build an evidence base for anything we talk about by talking to the community and to police officers.”
“The way we used to operate,” he said, “was on a case by case basis. It wasn’t effective for us to investigate individual claims because of the time it takes and our limited powers.”
Instead, the Commission and its small staff of investigators will be focusing on broader policy and practice matters that other groups aren’t already addressing.
For instance, Menos noted, other groups such as the ACLU are already focusing on the issue of stop and frisk in the Bailey lawsuit against Philadelphia, so the Commission “would only approach this issue from a different angle, to avoid duplicating the efforts of others.”
Instead, the Commission’s first policy investigation under Menos is into the use of body cameras by the Philadelphia Police Department, a subject which “no one else in the city is really looking at.”
Currently, the Commission’s small staff of investigators, consisting of Menos and three others, limits the work to one major policy investigation at a time.
Future subjects for policy investigations, according to Menos, may include police compliance with the 2015 recommendations of the U.S. Department of Justice for use of deadly force.
Menos said that he wants to expand his team to include “policy analysts, people who can own a project, so that we can have three or four policy investigations at a time.”
That staff expansion, however, requires an increase in the Commission’s budget. Menos is currently working with the Managing Director’s Office, which oversees his work, to submit a larger annual request for funding to City Council than in previous years.
At the same time, City Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilman Curtis Jones have introduced a proposal to amend the City’s Home Rule Charter to require that the Commission receive at least $500,000 in funding every year.
City Council held a hearing to consider the charter amendment last Tuesday and it will consider the Commission’s budget proposal as part of broader budget hearings later this year.
Menos said he is hopeful about increasing the Commission’s budget, but also understands that the government has a wide variety of projects which need to be funded and that, if increased funding is not available for the coming fiscal year, he will keep trying for the future.