The Philadelphia Police Department is out of step with the will of the people of Philadelphia — and Mayor Jim Kenney’s budget proposal does little to change that.
Last week provided two cringeworthy instances that exemplify the distance between the attitudes of police leadership and the city. During a Wednesday briefing on gun violence, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said officers were using “the Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program” to teach children what to do if they encounter a gun. Outlaw failed to mention that Eddie Eagle was developed by the National Rifle Association. The educational materials were used by the NRA as an alternative to safe gun storage laws, which, unlike the program, have evidence to support their efficacy in reducing gun-related accidents.
Following uproar, police spiked the program, tweeting: “We heard you loud and clear!”
Just days later, community groups in Philadelphia received a memo from the Police Department’s community relations officer Juan Delgado, asking residents to support “quality of life” policing practices and enforcement of minor offenses including “smoking/possessing marijuana,” spitting, and “minor disturbances.” According to the memo, the Police Department is under pressure “to cease enforcing certain quality-of-life issues” due to ongoing legal proceedings known as the “Bailey case,” through which the court assesses racial bias in and constitutionality of stop-and-frisk.
That is plainly false, Commissioner Outlaw and City Solicitor Diana Cortes later admitted in an apology and retraction of the memo.
Had the police paid attention, they would have known Philadelphia voters’ opinions about stop-and-frisk. In the last election, more than half a million Philadelphians voted in favor of a ballot measure to make unconstitutional stop-and-frisk illegal. But instead, the police chose to embark on a pressure campaign to remove another safeguard and reduce accountability.
The circulated memo and the collaboration with the NRA were only the latest disturbing news out of the department. An internal police memo leaked in March revealed that a district captain asked officers to conduct more traffic stops that, unlike pedestrian stops, are not monitored by the court and receive less scrutiny. In April, four police officers were charged with crimes: an inspector and former detective for beating up a person with autism while both were on the force, an officer for lying under oath in a drug case, and a sergeant in the Narcotics Field Unit for pocketing cash during a raid and lying about it.
Councilmember Isaiah Thomas summed it up best when he tweeted: “[Police] can’t keep apologizing after problems, we’ve got to make some changes.”
The current plan for change seems to involve throwing more money at the problem. When police officers shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr. while he was in a mental health crisis, the result was an extra $6 million to pair behavioral health specialists with officers and $750,000 in training to help officers make “positive decisions.” The solution for violent, racist, and conspiracy-believing cops was an extra $400,000 for an “early intervention” system. And police top brass already say they need more funds.
Mayor Kenney isn’t willing to reduce the police budget. So the question we must ask is: How much money, how many new technologies, and how many trainings will it take for Philadelphia police leadership to stop having to apologize?