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Dozens rally for Philly police accountability, including DA Larry Krasner, Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins

Dozens of people called on Mayor Jim Kenney to make accountability, transparency, and fairness key pillars of the search for a new commissioner and negotiation of a new police union contract.

Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins speaks to dozens of attendees at a rally at Arch Street United Methodist Church on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, demanding transparency and accountability in the selection of the next police commissioner and the police contract process.
Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins speaks to dozens of attendees at a rally at Arch Street United Methodist Church on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, demanding transparency and accountability in the selection of the next police commissioner and the police contract process.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Accountability. Transparency. Fairness.

Dozens of people gathered Monday evening inside a church a block from City Hall to call on Mayor Jim Kenney to make those attributes a central part of two major and ongoing police-related initiatives: the search for a new commissioner, and the negotiation of a new union contract that will define the rules and salaries for most of the city’s 6,500 officers.

Put together, the two decisions have the potential to reshape the Police Department’s leadership and rank and file for years to come. And District Attorney Larry Krasner, Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey, and Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins were among the speakers at Arch Street Methodist Church calling on Kenney — who was overwhelmingly reelected last month to a second term — to seize the rare opportunity with urgency.

“We can’t afford to have a police department that can’t be trusted,” said Jenkins, who has been outspoken about involving the community in the search for a new commissioner. Earlier Monday, Jenkins — who last month was criticized by police union boss John McNesby for his activism — was photographed with police commanders and children at a charitable event in South Philadelphia.

The Police Department has battled a variety of scandals in 2019:

  1. In February, former homicide detective Philip Nordo was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting male witnesses during his investigations, then intimidating them to stay quiet. Krasner’s office has alleged that Nordo’s criminal behavior spanned a decade and sometimes took place inside police interrogation rooms.

  2. Advocates in June published a database, dubbed the Plain View Project, cataloging thousands of racist or offensive Facebook posts by more than 300 current officers — which attracted national attention and led to 15 officers being forced out, with dozens more internally disciplined.

  3. In August, a week after a shootout in Tioga left six cops wounded, then-Commissioner Richard Ross resigned after a woman accused him in a lawsuit of retaliating against her for breaking off their affair. The lawsuit also claims that the department was rife with sexual harassment and discrimination.

  4. Ross’ interim successor, Christine M. Coulter — the first woman to head the department — apologized publicly for wearing a shirt in the 1990s that read “L.A.P.D. We Treat You Like a King,” which some critics perceived as a reference to the Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King.

  5. Chief Inspector Carl Holmes was arrested in November and accused of sexually assaulting three women.

Over the weekend, State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams was among those stating outrage by the recent promotions of some officers previously accused of misconduct.

Kenney’s spokesperson, Mike Dunn, said in an email Monday that the mayor expects to announce a permanent commissioner by the end of the year, although Dunn declined to say how many candidates had been interviewed.

Dunn said about 4,000 people responded to a survey asking residents what they wanted in a new top cop. He said the mayor was seeking “someone who is committed to building a stronger department, bolstering morale, and addressing the workplace challenges that have existed within law enforcement for some time.”

Dunn declined to specify the city’s priorities in negotiating a new contract, saying it would be “inappropriate to negotiate in the press.” The current contract expires June 30; Kenney’s office is required to submit a contract proposal by Jan. 1, 2020.

Monday’s rally was organized by a variety of advocacy groups, whose members delivered a letter outlining their demands to Kenney’s office, said the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church.

Tyler said priorities included a contract strengthening the Police Department’s ability to discipline or fire officers who violate the disciplinary code, and ending use of pedestrian and vehicle stops, which have been plagued by racial disparities and sometimes are conducted without legal justification.

Bradford-Grey said such stops — often referred to as “stop and frisk” — can “demean communities of color,” and that the issue of problematic or illegal stops can be compounded if authorities pursue criminal cases based on them.

“We need to stand up against all of it,” Bradford-Grey said.

Krasner said he did not know whom Kenney would pick as the next commissioner, but said the mayor displayed courage last year when he ended a city contract that allowed federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to access a key law-enforcement database, known as PARS. Kenney’s decision came after public outcry urging the cancellation.

Krasner said he was optimistic that community activism around the commissioner search could again influence a consequential decision.

“Your voices have been so loud and so clear,” Krasner said. “Government cannot help but hear your voices.”