Police kneeholds and chokeholds would be banned in Philadelphia and newly recruited officers would be required to live in the city under legislation introduced Thursday, as City Council responded to demonstrators’ calls for reform after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Council members also introduced legislation that would create a new police oversight commission and require public hearings before the city approves police union contracts. Together, the bills represented Council’s first concrete steps toward changing policing in Philadelphia after days of protests. Mayor Jim Kenney released his own reform agenda Tuesday.
“Every now and then, you know there is a sea change that things will never, ever be the same again,” Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr. said during Thursday’s virtual Council meeting, calling Floyd’s death a moment that will change the country.
Kenney said this week that Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw would soon revise the department’s use-of-force policies to ban officers from sitting on a person’s neck, face, or head. The policy already prohibits choke holds. But a bill introduced by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson on Thursday would explicitly prohibit all of those actions under city law.
Similar bans have gained traction in cities across the country since a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck.
Johnson called his legislation the “let Philly breathe” bill. It would prohibit “choke holds, hogtying, placement of body weight on the head, face, neck, chest or back.”
“Currently the City of Philadelphia Police Department policy does not prohibit the tactics used against George Floyd,” Johnson said. “This bill will fix that problem.”
A spokesperson said the Kenney administration was still reviewing the legislation introduced Thursday and declined to comment on specific proposals, but said the mayor looks forward to working with Council, which sent him a list of 15 suggested reforms this week.
Kenney’s "reform agenda was informed by specific requests from City Council and other elected officials,” spokesperson Mike Dunn said. “We will also continue to assess more of the demands that have been made by protesters, elected officials, community organizations, and others.”
Councilmember Cherelle L. Parker introduced a bill that would require new police officers to have lived in Philadelphia for at least a year before they are hired. Kenney said this week he would push to restore residency requirements for all officers as part of the police contract. The legislation would apply only to new recruits.
Another bill, introduced Thursday by Jones, would place a question on the November ballot asking voters to approve the creation of a police oversight body that would replace the Police Advisory Commission. Kenney has said he will work with Council to create that oversight commission.
Both the residency requirement bill and ballot question, sponsored by Council President Darrell L. Clarke, will be considered by a Council committee next week, said Joe Grace, Clarke’s spokesperson. Final Council votes on those bills could be held this month.
The timeline for Johnson’s choke hold bill, as well as for the measure requiring public hearings on new police contracts, was not as clear Thursday. If they are not acted on this month before summer recess, the bills could still be considered when Council begins its fall session.
Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson introduced the legislation on police contracts, which would require the disclosure of the cost of the contract “and any other terms or conditions set forth therein" within 30 days before the city approves a new agreement.
It would require public hearings and would allow for public comment on the contract. But it would not grant Council or residents direct say in contract terms.
Other Council members introduced legislation Thursday that they said would address broader racial inequity in the city; Maria Quiñones-Sánchez called for the city to consider a “black stimulus” for Philadelphia neighborhoods that would invest $500 million in commercial corridors and affordable housing.
Councilmember Kendra Brooks also introduced a bill to eliminate the 10-year tax abatement on new construction and to implement a tax on intangible personal property, such as stocks and bonds. Council voted to scale back the abatement for new residential construction in December, and those changes will take effect at the end of the year.
Brooks, who took office in January after winning a Council seat as a member of the Working Families Party, said the abatement accelerates gentrification and benefits mostly white residents.
“The world has changed, and we were in a different place than we were six months ago,” she said. “And if we are truly committed to dismantling oppression in Philadelphia, we must respond to structural racism with structural changes.”