Post-DOJ report: Philly police create officer-involved shooting unit

Acting Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Director Ronald Davis conducts a press conference on the Interim Final Report of the Philadelphia Police Department’s efforts in the collaborative reform initiative. Ronald Davis, Mayor Jim Kenney and police Commissioner Richard Ross listen.

An Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation Unit was established within the Philadelphia Police Department on Jan. 1, Commissioner Richard Ross announced Friday - a unit inspired by a Department of Justice study recommending reforms on the use of deadly force by police officers.

Of the 91 recommendations from the March 2015 report conducted by the federal agency's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), the Police Department has completed 61 and is making progress on an additional 22, officials announced a news conference.

"The Philadelphia Police Department will now be a model for the rest of the country," COPS director Ronald Davis said.

However, one of the study's major recommendations - that officer-involved shootings be investigated by an outside agency - could not be fulfilled, Davis said.

"Philadelphia tried many alternatives and it did not work," Davis said.

The department faced three major hurdles, Ross said. The chosen agency would have to have the expertise to conduct the investigation and it would have to have the capacity and ability to respond when an officer-involved shooting happens, he said.

"You have to be able to get there," he said.

Finally, Ross said, the "elephant in the room" was that the department faced opposition on the proposal from its union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5.

"We have a very strong collective-bargaining environment that, right now, we would have to do a lot of finagling to get past that," Ross said.

FOP Lodge 5 president John McNesby said he had not seen the DOJ's latest report but agreed that the union does not want outside agencies investigating its officers.

"Our guys have been out there for years doing the job and they're very professional and very good at what they do," he said. "They call the shots as they see them and I don't think anybody could do it better."

As an alternative to an outside agency conducting investigations, Ross established the Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation Unit so the process is now bifurcated - the criminal aspect will be handled by the new unit, and the administrative aspect will continue to be handled by the department's Internal Affairs Unit.

The separation will allow the department to interview officers involved in a shooting within 72 hours, instead of having to wait months until the District Attorney's Office determines whether to bring criminal charges against the officer.

The department has also revised its use-of-force policy, enhanced training, and improved its relationship with the Police Advisory Commission, Davis said.

Kelvyn Anderson, executive director of the Police Advisory Commission, confirmed that relations between his organization and police have improved as a result of the study.

"We're certainly much more in the loop now," he said. "It's absolutely had an impact."

Of the suggested reforms the department has not yet made progress on, two are about working conditions and will be addressed during union negotiations in July, Davis said. Five of the suggestions, among which are recommendations to improve transparency on the department's website, are under review, he said.

The DOJ study was requested in 2013 by then-Commissioner Charles Ramsey after police-involved shootings spiked in 2012.

Philadelphia is one of 16 cities to undergo the study and is the largest department in the country to take on the challenge, according to Davis and Mayor Kenney.

Ross said the progress his department has made on the reforms is "not an end game" but rather, a move in the right direction.

"We will never get comfortable, whether it be crime-fighting strategies or police reform," he said.

In a related action Friday, Mayor Kenney signed an executive order to broaden the duties of the Police Advisory Commission, which currently reviews individual incidents of police misconduct but now will also review the policies that may have contributed to those incidents.

The commission will also oversee the implementation of the remaining DOJ recommendations and will issue a report on that progress as well.

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