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Phila. PD's Ramsey details new policies, training since DOJ investigation into police shootings

Deadly police shootings in Philadelphia have fallen by 75 percent as the police department implemented a number steps last year aimed at reducing the use of lethal force.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey in July 2014.
Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey in July 2014.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Deadly police shootings in Philadelphia have fallen by 75 percent after the police department implemented a number steps last year aimed at reducing the use of lethal force.

So far this year, police have shot and killed three people.

By the same date last year, they had killed 12.

In 2012 by this date, officers had killed 16.

In a wide-ranging interview Monday, Police Commissioner Charles W. Ramsey said he hoped that the trend was a reflection of the department's new training and tactics, which include adopting a "statement on the sanctity of human life" and increasing the number of hours each officer gets in reality-based training.

Ramsey was scheduled to meet late Monday afternoon with federal officials to discuss a draft of a Department of Justice report examining the department's use of deadly force. In May 2013, the commissioner invited the DOJ to probe the department and review procedures. The request followed a investigation that documented a spike in the number of police-involved shootings despite a citywide drop in crime.

As the new policies have been phased in, the total number of shootings to date -- fatal and non-fatal -- has plummeted from 48 in 2012, to 35 in 2013, to 18 so far this year, according to the department.

The DOJ's report, which will be made public before the end of the year, closely mirrors a similar report prepared for the Las Vegas police, Ramsey said.

"There's nothing in the report that gave me heartburn," Ramsey said.

Some of the federal recommendations will require negotiations with the police union, Ramsey said. He declined to discuss specific DOJ recommendations for Philadelphia's force but addressed dozens of questions prompted by the Las Vegas findings.

"We've already begun making some revisions in our training and our response to officer-involved shootings," Ramsey said. "Whether or not they go as far as the DOJ wants us to go, that's another question."

The DOJ's report on the Philadelphia force was originally expected in September. The delay reflects a late start, and, since Philadelphia is significantly larger than Las Vegas, a greater number of interviews and meetings with focus groups.

"It's a lot of work," Ramsey said. "I'd rather them be thorough. They talked to a lot of folks."

In its 2012 Las Vegas report, the DOJ recommended making information more accessible to the public. Philadelphia has followed suit, posting online summaries of police shootings back to 2007. The DOJ also recommended adopting a "sanctity of human life statement." Ramsey added one to the directive governing the Philadelphia officers' use of deadly force early this year.

The DOJ's Las Vegas report repeatedly stressed the need for more training.

Ramsey has previously seen the results of increased officer education. As chief in Washington, D.C., he required his force to defuse situations first with words.

Already, 2,500 Philadelphia officers have gone through crisis-intervention training designed to de-escalate a tense situation before it erupts into violence, said Ramsey. The training is intense and time-consuming.

"We need to ask if all 6,500 officers need to go through it, or just the uniformed patrol officers," he said.

The department is also ramping up the amount of reality-based training using video to put each officer into volatile scenarios.

Ramsey said he plans to launch training for "fair and impartial policing" next year. The short course deals with explicit and implicit bias, he said.

"Everyone has a bias of some kind," he said. "It could be race, gender or sexual orientation. It could be political. So how do you filter out bias so you don't let it influence decisions?"

In Las Vegas, not all officers welcomed the new training required by the DOJ. Ramsey said he expected some of his own to be resistant.

"I'm not naïve enough to believe some people might not be on board," he said. "I'm hoping that won't be the case here."