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Report: Poor training leads to high police-involved shootings

Federal investigators found that poor oversight and investigations spawned distrust in community that will be tough for police to mend.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey speaking about the release of the "COPS" report, a review of policing in Philadelphia by the justice department on Mar. 23, 2015.  ( ED HILLE / Staff Photographer )
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey speaking about the release of the "COPS" report, a review of policing in Philadelphia by the justice department on Mar. 23, 2015. ( ED HILLE / Staff Photographer )Read moreEd Hille

IN A CITY FAMOUS for police brutality and corruption, where officers shoot about 49 people a year, the Philadelphia Police Department has a long way to go to reduce its use of deadly force and rebuild the community's broken trust, according to a federal Justice Department report issued yesterday.

The department's office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, spent a year assessing Philly's use of force, identifying 48 issues and making 91 recommendations for reform. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey asked for the review in 2013 after a report found police-involved shootings skyrocketing here, even as violent crimes and assaults against police dropped.

"The department has much work to do in the months and years ahead. Our assessment uncovered policy, training and operational deficiencies, in addition to an undercurrent of significant strife between the community and the department," authors George Fachner and Steven Carter wrote in their 174-page report.

"Distrust in the ability of the PPD to investigate itself pervades segments of the community," they continued. "Scandals of the past and present, high-profile OIS [officer-involved shooting]incidents and a lack of transparency in investigative outcomes help cement this distrust."

The authors found that Philly officers don't get regular, consistent training on deadly force policies. They recommended annual training and additional reality-based scenario training to improve de-escalation, threat perception and decision-making skills.

They also urged the department to issue stun-guns to all uniformed officers to reduce lethal encounters, rather than the limited few who complete "crisis intervention training" as now occurs.

The department should create a unit dedicated to investigating all deadly force incidents and record, on audio and video, interviews with officers involved in shootings and witnesses, the report recommended.

Further, all police shootings of unarmed suspects should be reviewed by an outside agency, the report urged. Fifteen percent of those shot by police since 2007 were unarmed. (Fifty-six were armed with guns, while the rest used vehicles as weapons against police or were armed with knives, BB guns or other objects.)

"More transparency is needed for properly keeping the community informed," the authors noted, exhorting the department to post detailed, annual, public reports on police use of force.

The department also must better cooperate with the Police Advisory Commission, a civilian-helmed oversight board whose director has complained he's had to file right-to-know requests for deadly force incidents.

COPS officials will monitor Philly's progress on implementing their recommendations and issue two progress reports in the next year, COPS director Ronald Davis said.

As officials shared report findings with journalists inside U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger's Center City office, a few protesters gathered outside, holding signs with such slogans as "No good cops in a racist system" and "Fight the oppressor! Ramsey & the FOP."

They chanted at Ramsey when he departed, heckling him as a "jaywalker" as he crossed the street midblock to reach his car. He did not address them.

But earlier, he told reporters that volunteering for outside scrutiny should show citizens that he is serious about reform. Philly is just the third police department to ask for the COPS review (Las Vegas and Spokane, Wash., are the others).

"This is a start," Ramsey said. "The truth hurts but selective ignorance is fatal," he added, borrowing a favorite saying of Davis'.

The report gives Philly's next mayor and police commissioner a good road map for reform, Mayor Nutter added.

"Every day is another day to do better than we did yesterday," he said.

Philly police have shot 394 people since 2007, according to police data. Excluding those shot in 2014 (because 2014 data is incomplete), the report found that 80 percent of those shot were black, and 98 percent were male. They ranged in age from 13 to 62, but averaged 20 years old.

The report found that 540 officers fired their guns in 364 incidents through 2013:

* Most (93 percent) were patrol cops, men (94 percent) and white (59 percent).

* Sixty-eight officers were involved in more than one shooting; of those, 12 shot three people each, while another three shot four people each.

* The 22nd and 25th Police Districts (both in North Philly) were the deadliest, with 55 and 41 police-involved shootings, respectively.

See the report online at: