Josh Ederheimer, who has worked closely with Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey in the past, is leading the review of the Philadelphia Police Department’s use-of-deadly-force. A former assistant chief in the Washington D.C. police department, Ederheimer now serves as principal deputy director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) division.
Ramsey is also a veteran of Washington D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department. Shortly before Ramsey was appointed chief there in 1998, a Washington Post investigation found the MPD to be the nation’s deadliest. Realizing he needed outside help, Ramsey asked the DOJ to review the department. Ederheimer, then a police captain, was tasked by Ramsey with creating a new use-of-force policy from scratch. The DOJ review and Ederheimer’s efforts led to a major cultural change within the department — and fewer police-involved shootings in subsequent years.
Following a Philly.com review of 2012 police-shootings, which found a nearly 50 percent increase in police shootings over the previous year, Ramsey invited the DOJ to review the use of deadly force in Philadelphia.
In addition to leading the review in Philadelphia, Ederheimer is also at the helm for similar projects in Las Vegas and Spokane, Wash.
This interview, conducted in mid-December, has been edited for length and clarity.
How is the review of the Philadelphia Police Department progressing?
I think it’s looking good. We’ve definitely had progress. For one, the federal government is open. We did lose a little bit of time because of the government shutdown.
We’ve already had meetings with the mayor, deputy mayor, the commissioner, his command staff, and city attorneys. And we had a team in the city this month. Five members have started the process. It’s important to have an idea of what our objectives are and what the outcomes we want to see are. And we’ve developed some drafts.
What is in the drafts?
In Philadelphia, we’re focusing on police use of deadly force, enhancing training, enhancing the quality and transparency of deadly force investigations, strengthening the use of deadly force incident review process, how they are reviewed and standardizing deadly force protocols in all of these areas so there’s strong consistencies through out.
We think the outcomes of this review will be fewer unnecessary deadly force incidents; fewer significant officer injuries; and greater public confidence in the department’s deadly force investigations.
The first area we’re focusing on is deadly force training. Our site visit focused on the training both for the new recruits and service training for veteran officers. We’ve started focusing on firearm tactics, de-escalation training, crisis intervention and decision making.
It will be awhile before implementation. We’re looking at the training curriculum, the lesson plans, the training policies and requirements. Any internal reviews and audits and what we can do.
We may come back and say the Philadelphia Police Department is extremely strong in this particular area, or this is an area where there’s room for improvement and this is what they should do.
We’ve also started interviewing people: the staff that trains new officers, veteran officers, the staff that trains with firearm use. a cross section of recent graduates from the academy, and random police officers and sergeants.
There’s going to be more in depth discussions with members of the community, but we’ve already started the process of interviews. We will also start direct observation of training. The team has observed active shooter training, scenario based training and firearms discharge review board hearings.
The number of officer-involved shootings in 2013 appears to have fallen just as quickly rose in 2012. How do you account for that? Have there been changes in the department that already have contributed to the decline?
I think (this year’s) stats show some hope. The commissioner is really committed to transparency, his team already had sat down and gone over the Las Vegas report.
We’ve already begun to see some things change - putting information on the Internet, more information on deadly force incidents. This isn’t something that’s taking place in all other departments across the country. There is already greater transparency in Philadelphia.
Would you attribute the 2013 reduction in officer-involved shootings to the DOJ’s presence?
Crime and violent crime is often unpredictable. Human beings are unpredictable, so you can’t account for violent crime behavior. The best you can do is train and prepare for what might happen and train and prepare for ways to mitigate those situations.
The commissioner has amplified the issue of responsible use of force. It’s on peoples’ minds, both in the commissioner’s and in the department.
Has the DOJ met with the police union?
We met with some of the folks from the union when we were there to visit with the command staff. They have similar goals: They want officers to be safe and they’d prefer to have fewer deadly force incidents. Our experience in Las Vegas shows that unions, they support the reforms.
How is the Philadelphia review different from what DOJ has done in other cities?
This collaborative reform model is very new. Las Vegas is the first city we’ve piloted this in. Now, we’re also doing it in Spokane and Philadelphia. There’s support across the nation from police chiefs and sheriffs for this program. They want to engage in major improvements and reforms in their agencies and they think they can do it without court involvement.
What are the advantages of the collaborative reform model?
The court-appointed independent monitor in Seattle runs the city $900,000 a year. In New Orleans, the cost of the monitor is about $7 or $8 million spread over four or five years. It’s still comes up to about a million a year to monitor changes.
Las Vegas is not under a consent decree. They’re making these changes … and this is all at no cost to the city of Las Vegas.
The Las Vegas police are committing internal resources to these reforms, but they don’t have to pay for the assessment and monitoring. As long as it’s successful, the likelihood of the Civil Rights Division coming in is pretty low. We’re not charging. Same in Philadelphia. There’s no cost to the Philadelphia Police Department for DOJ’s work here, which is extensive.
Those other cities are paying out of pocket. Seattle didn’t have a choice. They launched a review of the Seattle Police and pursued a consent decree and the city of Seattle has to pay out of pocket for the monitoring, as well as making those reforms.
So the city of Philadelphia is saving a lot of money under this arrangement?
Yes, and it’s the best way of doing it as long as the police department makes the reforms. If they don’t make the reforms, if Las Vegas did not make the reforms, they would run the risk of the Civil Rights Division coming in and making a consent decree. So this is a very cost effective thing to do, not to mention it makes for better constitutional policing, fewer people get killed by police and fewer officers are injured.
Would you like to see more information about officer involved shootings posted on the PPD website?
I’d say it depends on the jurisdiction. Certain states have certain rules about the information they can release. In Las Vegas, the kind of information they were willing to put on the website, they did in conjunction with the District Attorney and they had to consult with their human resources people to make sure they didn’t violate any personnel rules.
I will say that I think what’s helpful about Las Vegas, it’s hard to criticize the Las Vegas police for not releasing information. It’s out there and available. What the Philadelphia Police Department did is a step in the right direction. It’s information about a very sensitive issue that is available to everybody, and that’s certainly a good thing.
Why is the DOJ reviewing so many police departments across the country? Is there a national problem?
The U.S. Attorney General made it a priority for civil rights enforcement and to make sure those entities including police departments and other organization that are responsible for peoples’ civil rights — that there was a high level of enforcement. Because it was an AG priority, you’ve seen an increase in supervision of all law enforcement agencies.
One last question: When the DOJ announced it would be making a review of the Philadelphia Police Department, several people were upset it was being called a “review.” Why do you think that was?
Most likely it’s because when the Civil Rights Division does what it calls a review, the implication is that there might be something wrong and it might end up with a court-involved consent decree. It’s a matter of semantics. What we do does not end with a federal court consent decree. That may explain the sensitivity to it.
Any last words?
We’re not sure what the time frame will be but our assessment of the Philadelphia Police Department will be a public document. It will be a report with very specific recommendations. The time of the review will be about an 8-to-10 month range. But every agency is different. Philadelphia is different, so it’s not a cookie cutter approach. So far we’ve seen cooperation from the department and the City of Philadelphia, so we don’t expect any bumps.