Ramsey says he supports all of police task force report

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President Barack Obama speaks as Charles Ramsey, commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, looks on during a meeting to receive his Task Force on 21st Century Policing's interim report on March 2, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said Monday that he plans to implement an independent process to investigate officer-involved shootings, as recommended by a presidential task force he chaired.

The recommendation is one of dozens in an interim report by the 21st Century Policing Task Force, which President Obama commissioned last year.

The president received the report Monday and will suggest changes as necessary, Ramsey said in a telephone interview conducted while he was taking the train home from Washington. Obama was "very pleased" by the interim report, he said.

The task force suggested that police departments mandate an "external and independent" investigation after use-of-force incidents that result in death, officer-involved shootings that result in injury or death, and deaths in police custody.

Ramsey said he plans to implement such a policy, but when or how has yet to be determined. The department must now "sit down collectively and figure out how that will work," he said.

The department's Internal Affairs Division currently investigates such incidents. The task force suggested that jurisdictions develop "multiagency" task forces of state and local investigators, or refer cases to either neighboring departments or higher authorities.

"In order to restore and maintain trust, this independence is crucial," the report said.

The report also recommended that independent prosecutors review those cases. That recommendation, however, drew a negative response from District Attorney Seth Williams, who said elected prosecutors are in position to conduct those investigations.

Ramsey said he plans to implement as many suggestions from the 115-page interim report as he can.

"There's not a single recommendation in there I don't agree with," he said.

The bulk of the task force's report deals with rebuilding trust between communities and the police forces that serve them following widespread debate and protest over several high-profile police-involved deaths last year of African American men at the hands of white police officers.

The president appointed the 11-member task force in December to address concerns among communities of color in after the deaths of Michael Brown, a teenager shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August, and Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after a New York City police officer put him in a choke hold in July.

Both men were unarmed. Grand juries declined to indict the officers involved in their deaths, and the decisions were met with weeks of protests in cities across the country.

The U.S. Justice Department, which has been probing the Ferguson shooting, is expected to issue a report soon critical of the Ferguson Police Department, according to published reports. The findings, which may be released this week, will address concerns ranging from discrimination in traffic stops to the treatment of jail inmates.

For just over two months, the task force met for seven public listening sessions around the country and several more at the White House before publishing its interim report Monday.

In many cases, the task force called on the federal government to establish guidelines and standards for local departments. The task force also encouraged agencies to "acknowledge the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination."

The recommendations frequently touched on the culture of police departments, and encouraged agencies to operate with transparency and diversity in mind and to change training practices accordingly.

Some recommendations are not up to police departments alone, such as the one for independent prosecutors to review police-involved shootings, a strategy Williams said he disagreed with.

Williams said he had not yet read the report and respected Ramsey's work on the task force, but "would unequivocally and as stringently as possible say that I'm opposed to something like that."

He said his status as an elected official insulates him from political pressure.

"In Philadelphia, we've demonstrated the ability to independently investigate and prosecute police," he said.

Ramsey said the task force's suggestions were simply suggestions.

"Obviously, there will be some pushback," he said. "Prosecutors are elected officials, and it's going to be up to them to make the decision as to what they think is appropriate."

Kelvyn Anderson, the head of the city's Police Advisory Commission, called the push for such independent investigations "a watershed moment in American policing."

He said the report represents an opportunity for "substantive changes," locally and nationally.

"I hope that this is not just another report that sits on people's shelves and doesn't get enacted in any significant way," he said.

 


awhelan@philly.com

215-854-2961 @aubreyjwhelan