Despite ongoing efforts, it has been hard finding minority men and women to join the Philadelphia police force, Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said Wednesday.
Ramsey said he thinks that is partly due to the instances of police violence widely reported around the country.
"In the current environment we're in, policing is not all that positive. Not a day goes by you don't see something negative," Ramsey said during a City Council budget hearing on public safety. "That has an impact on young people."
Ramsey testified about recruitment, body cameras, and training during a two-hour session that focused on the Police Department's operating budget, which is slated to grow 7 percent, to $685 million, for 2016.
The boost, Ramsey said, is mostly due to scheduled wage increases and equipment needs, including some suggested by a recently released U.S. Department of Justice report.
The report, undertaken at Ramsey's request, found "significant strife" between police and the community, and inconsistent and ineffective training on use-of-force policies.
The report also recommended that the police force should reflect the ethnicities of the people it serves. The force, which has 213 vacancies, is 57 percent white, 33 percent black, and 8 percent Hispanic. The city is 36.2 percent white, 41.8 percent black, 13.3 percent Hispanic, and 6.7 percent Asian.
But despite recruitment efforts at historically black colleges and some changes to requirements, newly hired African Americans make up an even smaller percentage, Ramsey said. Applicants no longer need to have a driver's license and the minimum age was lowered from 21 to 20.
Following the hearing, Ramsey said he would like to see more LGBT officers. Bilingual officers make up only about 6 percent of the force, he said.
"Certainly we don't have enough representation in some areas," he said.
Ramsey said the department took the findings from the Justice report and created a plan focused primarily on "reality-based" training."
"It's not just going to the range for target practice," Ramsey said. "It's scenario-driven, to test their judgment in terms of how they defuse a situation, resolve a situation, not just through force, though verbal communication."
The report recommended that every officer be issued a Taser. Only about 2,000 of the department's 6,525 uniformed officers have them, and 1,600 more will be purchased for fiscal 2016.
The department will purchase 450 body cameras next year, a first step in equipping the entire department by about 2019. Ramsey said it will take at least that long due to the high infrastructure cost for storage, data, and upkeep.
The 22d District has 35 officers trying out body cameras. They are testing various brands and next month will narrow the options down to the top two models.
"Hopefully, the impact it has is that it changes everybody's behavior - the people who we're encountering because they know they're now on film," and the police, Ramsey said.
Fire Department officials also testified Wednesday before Council. They were grilled on training practices.
The 2016 budget allots $11 million for training hours for all firefighters. Each member of the department must complete 169 hours, Commissioner Derrick Sawyer told Council.
Councilman Mark Squilla asked whether that was an increase over the last year - something the department had pledged following last year's death of firefighter Joyce Craig. Sawyer said there were plans for increased training but said he did not have details available.