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Philly City Council approves police reform measures, including banning choke holds

City Council approved two police reform measures that will require public hearings on police contract proposals and prohibit the use of chokeholds and some other tactics.

Police stand in front of their headquarters in Philadelphia during protests in June.
Police stand in front of their headquarters in Philadelphia during protests in June.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia City Council approved two police reform measures Thursday that will require public hearings on police contract proposals and prohibit the use of choke holds or kneeling on a person’s neck.

Both bills were introduced in June amid protests against brutality after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and reflect some of the demands made by protesters.

City officials have often cited the contract process with Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the police union, as a roadblock to substantial change. One of the bills approved Thursday, sponsored by Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson, doesn’t allow for public input on final approval of a contract, but does ensure residents can comment on the city’s initial contract proposal before it is submitted to the FOP.

Gilmore Richardson said the negotiation process has been “used as a sword and shield” by the union and must involve public input.

“This legislation seeks to mandate public transparency and accountability in a process that has been shrouded in secrecy for too long,” she said. “We can no longer afford to have these important discussions happen behind closed doors.”

FOP president John McNesby said Thursday that the bill singles out the police union compared with other municipal unions. But he said it would not impact outcomes because the public hearing would precede negotiations.

“I think it’s just a group of people on Council who just wanted to show some kind of reform,” he said. “In all reality, that bill does absolutely nothing to our bargaining process.”

The bill was approved by 15-2 , with Bobby Henon and Brian J. O’Neill voting no. Henon is a Democrat who has been a supporter of unions, and O’Neill is one of Council’s two Republican members.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration voiced support for the bill at a hearing in June, and noted that it could lead to changes in contract proposals based on public input. The administration faced scrutiny this year for approving a one-year extension of the police contract that offered raises for officers, and for proposing a $19 million increase in the police budget. The budget increase was later canceled amid protests and budget negotiations in June.

Council also voted unanimously Thursday to ban officers from choke holds and kneeling on a subject’s neck or back.

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, who sponsored that bill, said it was important to formally ban the tactic that resulted in Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. An officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

“The bill was introduced in the spirit of George Floyd, who lost his life," Johnson said.

The police union and the administration supported Johnson’s bill.

Police Department policy already banned the use of choke holds and kneeling on subjects' backs. Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said at a Council hearing in June that department policy did not explicitly ban kneeling on a person’s neck, and said she supported the bill.