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Ramsey: State police should investigate when Phila. police shoot suspects

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said Tuesday that he wants the Pennsylvania State Police to take over investigations when city officers shoot people.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey speaks during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey speaks during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015.Read moreAP Photo/Matt Rourke/File photo

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said Tuesday that he wants the Pennsylvania State Police to take over investigations when city officers shoot people.

His remarks came during a news conference at which U.S. Justice Department officials released their first progress report on their review of Philadelphia police's deadly-force policies, and said the city has made "significant progress."

But some of the changes recommended by the federal Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) are unlikely to happen without the cooperation of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the city's powerful police union.

And union president John McNesby said Tuesday that he was prepared for a fight.

"It's not that we're opposed to change, it's that they don't include us in anything," he said. "They just shove it down your throat."

Details on the role the state police would have in police-involved shootings are still under discussion, said Ramsey, who is retiring in January, "but that's the direction in which we're working."

Ramsey said that under the current plan, the state police would lead a group of investigators that includes a member of the Philadelphia Police Department. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has signed off on the plan, Ramsey said.

State police would also investigate any incident in which people died while in police custody.

McNesby contended that inviting an outside agency in to investigate police shootings is "a clear violation" of the union's labor agreement.

"It's taking police officers' work," he said. "We have a capable and a very good shooting team in Internal Affairs that's been doing a great job for quite some time."

He said he was "open to discussion" on the proposed changes, but wanted to do so in front of the state labor board, in a series of hearings set for January.

A number of states have begun appointing special prosecutors or relying on outside agencies to investigate police-involved shootings. Last year, for instance, Wisconsin passed a law requiring outside agencies to lead investigations, in response to three high-profile deaths.

Ramsey requested the federal review of his department in 2013, after police-involved shootings spiked. In March, COPS issued 48 findings and 91 recommendations for the department to consider in "reforming its deadly force practices."

The police have fully put in place 21 of those recommendations, and 61 are in progress, Justice Department officials said Tuesday.

"The commendable success of the Police Department in implementing these recommendations is directly attributable to the outstanding leadership of Mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, and reflects the commitment of the men and women who serve in the Police Department," said Ronald Davis, the COPS office director.

Among recommendations adopted are changes to the department's rules about use of force, which now emphasize de-escalation. Those rules forbid recruits from using neck restraints to subdue a person, and require officers to limit Taser shocks.

In addition, the department now requires officers who witness their colleagues using "inappropriate or excessive force" to report the incident to a supervisor and Internal Affairs.

Policies have been revised to provide officers more training in crisis intervention and firearms proficiency. The department has begun officially commending officers who, instead of discharging their weapons, talk suspects down, Ramsey said.

One of the areas where the department has not made progress is in adopting the Justice Department's recommendation to interview within three days officers who shoot suspects.

A story Sunday in The Inquirer about the 2012 police shooting of Thomas Hennelly 3d reported that it took 115 days, on average, in 2013 for officials to interview officers once prosecutors declined to pursue criminal charges.

The article highlighted several shortcomings with the way police investigations are handled in Philadelphia, ranging from a lack of transparency to the way witnesses are interviewed.

Ramsey said the FOP is arguing that police should not talk to investigators unless promised they will not face criminal charges.

"These are all contractual issues," McNesby said. Ramsey "wants to implement them, and we feel they should be bargained for."

In eight instances, the Department of Justice concluded that changes that were "in progress" could not be completed without negotiating with the union. All eight involve how the department disciplines officers.

Ramsey also said he is open to releasing more information about police shootings - but once the investigations are complete, and not with "day-by-day" updates.

Philadelphia police have made no progress on promptly updating the department website after a police shooting, the Justice Department report stated. Federal officials have recommended that summary information be posted within three days of a shooting. Summaries are now posted four times a year.

And when officers are cleared of criminal wrongdoing, there is no public release of information explaining the legal reasoning, as the department has urged.

Ramsey also spoke out against a bill in the General Assembly that would bar authorities from releasing the name of officers who shoot suspects.

"It's very important that law doesn't pass," he said.

Mayor Nutter praised Ramsey for inviting the federal review, noting, "It takes a lot to ask for this kind of self-examination."

The review in March found "significant strife between the community and the department."

Nutter said: "There must be an end of the us vs. them mentality."

215-854-2961 @aubreyjwhelan