To much fanfare, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced the creation of a Conviction Review Unit to examine cases of inmates who may have been wrongfully convicted. But two and a half years later, not one case has been reversed and the office doesn't seem deeply committed to the effort.
Kathleen Martin, Williams' chief of staff, could not say how many investigations the unit conducted or even considered. Martin said they are trying to improve the unit. But for now just one employee is reviewing cases. So anyone doing time for a wrongful conviction should plan to sit tight.
This failure detailed in a two-part Inquirer series is just the latest disappointment with Williams. The FBI is investigating campaign donations and he belatedly disclosed $160,000 in gifts.
Yet he's still taking bows for initiatives that are less than they seem. Two weeks ago he said he wanted to build public trust by increasing transparency when police shoot civilians. A day after the big trust-building announcement, Williams sent an email to his campaign list bragging about it - which showed his priorities.
But the policy isn't very boast-worthy. It falls short of what will be needed if President-elect Donald Trump's Justice Department likely cuts back on investigating police involved shootings and Pennsylvania's lawmakers successfully cut transparency.
The legislature passed a bill banning police from releasing the names of officers who shoot civilians until 30 days after an incident. The delay deprives the public of information that could diffuse tense situations. But the bill did exempt district attorneys and the attorney general, leaving them free to disclose the names. That gave Williams an opportunity to fulfill a crucial role, which he flubbed. Through a spokesman, he would only say that the office would review releasing police names on a "case by case basis." He couldn't even guarantee that names would be released in a reasonable time frame.
Given the slew of police shootings and subsequent protests nationwide, rapid response and transparency are essential to keeping the peace. That's why Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross reasonably releases names within 72 hours of a shooting as long as an officer's life is not in jeopardy.
Ross last week released the name of an officer who discharged his weapon during a confrontation with a gun-wielding suspect in Olney. Guess what happened? The public was informed and there wasn't a demonstration. Under the bill, Ross won't be able to proactively build trust.
Fortunately, Gov. Wolf vetoed the bill Monday, killing it for this session. If it gets reintroduced, legislators should stop it.
Better yet, Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro should quickly adopt a statewide policy that breeds trust and not suspicion, which means rapid and complete disclosure.
But don't rely on Williams to protect the innocent and build trust within the city. He doesn't seem to understand how important that is to public safety as well as he understands self-aggrandizement.