14 Philly Council Members Call for Reforms, Say No to Police Budget Increase

The city lawmakers signed a letter that also outlines improved, independent oversight of the police department that include the community.

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Fourteen of the 17 members of Philadelphia City Council wrote a letter Monday to Mayor Jim Kenney that said they "cannot accept the proposed $14 million increase" to the police department.

The June 8 letter also outlines numerous new guidelines to enhance accountability and transparency of police officers' actions and eliminates certain tactics, including "sitting or kneeling on a person's neck, face or head."

It was signed by Council President Darrell Clarke, Kenyatta Johnson, Mark Squilla, Jamie Gauthier, Curtis Jones Jr., Maria Quinones Sanchez, Cindy Bass, Cherelle Parker, Kendra Brooks, Allan Domb, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Derek Green, Helen Gym and Isaiah Thomas.

The three Council members who didn't sign the letter are David Oh, Brian O'Neill and Bobby Henon.

"Philadelphia can’t breathe. In the poorest big city in America, during a global health pandemic and a massive economic crisis, the people of our city are telling us that police reform cannot wait. We must hear them and act decisively," the letter began.

The letter noted that the police department, which has 6,500 uniformed officers and a $726 million budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30, has seen its annual funding increase $120 million since 2016.

City Council ultimately decides on spending by the municipal government. The mayor proposes an initial spending plan. Council is currently holding hearings. Police department officials will go before Council on Wednesday, June 10. A budget must be approved by June 30.

"We must recalibrate budget priorities," the letter said. "The Police Department—along with the policing profession nationally—faces a crisis of legitimacy. A big part of the problem is that we too often ask the police to solve problems better addressed by social workers, healthcare providers, educators, housing counselors, and others. Rebalancing our budget priorities is a first step in resolving this problem. It is counterproductive to increase spending
on the Police Department while cutting spending on public health, housing, social services, violence prevention, youth programs, libraries, parks, recreation centers, and the arts."

The letter also states that the City of Philadelphia "must make meaningful policy changes to ensure transparency and accountability."

They include in the letter:

  • Fully resourced, independent police oversight, including authority to conduct contemporaneous, independent review of civilian complaints and use-of-force incidents.
  • Establishment of specific criteria for designation of an investigation as internal.
  • Expanded reporting of civilian complaints and internal investigations, as well as specific criteria for limitation of information reported.
  • Systematic reforms to eliminate unconstitutional “stop and frisk.”
  • Explicit prohibition of sitting or kneeling on a person’s neck, face, or head.
  • Council and community input, including a public hearing, on any collective bargaining agreement relating to law enforcement personnel.

Kenney in 2017 eliminated the city Police Advisory Commission's ability to investigate civilian complaints. The PAC would have its budget of $640,000 decreased by $115,000, to $525,000 in Kenney's proposed budget.

In New York City, the police department has an independent oversight agency with a $19 million annual budget. In Chicago, the budget for its Civilian Office of Police Accountability is required by law to be 1% of the police department's budget. It is currently $13.8 million.

Kenney released a new budget in April after the coronavirus pandemic decimated revenue projections for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, causing a $650 million expected shortfall. Every department, except the police and fire departments, were asked to cut 18% of their budgets.

It remains unclear what Council has in mind for the PAC. Neither Clarke nor Kenney immediately responded to questions about oversight of the police department or the PAC's budget.

Here is the full letter:

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