City announces independent review of Philadelphia police use of force during protests

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. Courtesy NBC10 Philadelphia Youtube

The City of Philadelphia released a statement as of Monday, June 15, to announce that it would be engaging an independent consultant to review the City’s systemwide response to the ongoing protests. 

It has been almost three weeks since protests for Black lives began in Philadelphia. Many have worried that the protests will cause a spike in COVID-19 cases. As of June 16, there are 116 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Philadelphia, bringing the total to 24,591. The last week has seen numbers hovering at an average of 137.5 new cases each day. With masks donned, Black Lives Matter is at the helm of protests and there seems to be agreement amongst groups involved that the police should be defunded and that there needs to be sweeping reform within law enforcement and the Criminal Justice system as a whole. 

The Black Lives Matter movement has seen a lot of intersections nationwide and locally; the LGBTQ community is present right down to the organizational level. Among the signs and banners at a recent rally, some read “Black trans lives matter” and others specifically targeted “queer white people,” asking them to address racism within the LGBTQ community.  As per their website, Black Lives Matter itself was conceived by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi as an intersectional movement that demanded a coalition of female, trans and queer voices to speak out against violence perpetrated against Black people. 

It is no surprise then that this movement gained traction within Philadelphia, a city characterized by its progressive attitude toward LGBTQ folks and for its vibrant Black community, and why these communities may be interested in what an independent review of police response to these protests might uncover. 

The relatively new Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said, “Police departments must respond immediately to the public’s calls for meaningful police reform. Our commitment to reform must also include an assessment of how police responded to the very protests that called for change. While I’ve witnessed many officers respond bravely and with compassion, I have also witnessed inappropriate use of force and other conduct that I do not condone — nor will I allow to continue by those who serve the Philadelphia Police Department.”

In response to the protests, Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw have decided to consult with an independent party to review the City’s behavior in many activities, chief among which — the Philadelphia police department’s (PPD) use of force. The independent consultant can be one or more organizations with expertise in police policy. The scope of this independent review is currently being drafted, but the City will issue a call for review submissions after this is done. However, there are a few expected activities for review. 

The consultant is expected to review incident reports from the Philadelphia police from May 29 to June 15, 2020. These incident reports will be regarding interactions between officers and protesters and the consultant will determine whether or not these interactions followed police best practices or policies already in place within the PPD.  Additionally, all body-camera footage, social media posts, CCTV footage, audio, photographs and other documents in the PPD’s possession will be collated and reviewed by a third party. 

Beyond this, the consultant will evaluate the PPD’s use of force not only during peaceful protests but in any other police activity throughout the city. It will be determined whether or not the use of lethal force or munitions matched the PPD’s policy. Use of force policy itself will also be subject to discussion and the consultant will determine, in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies such as the Pennsylvania State Police, if these policies need change or augmentation. 

“We absolutely must do better to build trust with our communities,” said Kenney, “and our response to the recent demonstrations further highlighted the amount of work we have before us.” The timeline for the completion of this independent review has not been determined and the budget for this project has not yet been announced. 

These measures may not satisfy the demands of protestors. Kenney recently announced that the PPD would not be receiving the proposed $14-19 million budget increase, but has not made any progress in defunding the current police budget. Defunding the police is a major tenet of the demands of Black Lives Matter and the Black Philly Radical Collective. Philly We Rise compared Los Angeles’s decision to cut the police budget by $150 million to Philadelphia’s current police budget which remains untouched; a comparable budget cut would be at least $64 million. 

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