Money is needed, but what the Police Advisory Commission really needs is creative thinkers | Opinion

Philadelphia Police Headquarters Move
The Philadelphia Police Department, headquartered in the pictured building, is enormous and well-funded. Shouldn’t the group charged with their oversight be funded similarly?

How much money does it take to fund effectively the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission? The exact dollar amount is debatable – and it should be publicly debated if we want to find creative new solutions — but we can agree that it needs to be more than a mere $500,000. That’s the arbitrary round number proposed in a new bill by City Council President Darrell L. Clarke and Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.

Currently, the budget for PAC is roughly $380,000. That’s the result of a $150,000 cash infusion from the city in the 2017 fiscal year. (The same amount was formalized as a line item in the 2018 budget as well.) Mayor Kenney touts this figure often, presumably in an attempt to show his commitment to the agency and to differentiate himself from his predecessor, who defunded the PAC.

Sure, $380,000 is more than $280,000, and $500,000 outdoes both. That’s good, but not good enough when you consider how large, complex and well-resourced the Philadelphia Police Department is. PAC is tasked with overseeing and advising a behemoth of an organization. An extra $150,000 this year and next year just isn’t going to make it that much more effective. That would take millions of dollars.

In my opinion – which is informed by years of involvement with the neglected PAC through my work as a journalist and activist – the dollar amounts proposed by Mayor Kenney — who has said he envisioned the PAC’s budget achieving $1.5 million over three years — and these two councilmen do not signal a sustainable shift from PAC being an apathetic afterthought.

Rather than politicians blurting out random dollar amounts like auctioneers, they should work with community members to define ideal outcomes and then analyze how much money it takes to fund those outcomes.

Of course, the knee-jerk reaction from elected officials will always be that there is a lack of money. But money can be found if we, as a city, believe that we deserve a decked-out police oversight group and are committed to finding a way to make it a reality.

After a contentious summer following the police-involved shooting death of David Jones and recent events that have brought the 2012 and 2014 controversial fatal police shootings of Hassan Pratt and Brandon Tate-Brown back in the news, now is the time for Philadelphia to have a meaningful conversation about the type of policing that will define us as a city. If our goal is equitable policing where the community’s voice is centered in conversations of reform, then that can’t be accomplished without effective and civilian oversight.

Philadelphia loves to be the first in the nation to do things, so we should blaze the trail in the area of police oversight with an agency that has researchers mining data to uncover problematic policing patterns; investigators arriving at the scene of officer-involved shootings to collect their own evidence; conveners routinely planning and executing focus groups and town halls to keep their finger on the pulse of the community; canvassers traversing our neighborhoods to encourage citizens to file complaints if they have them; and boots-on-the-ground who attend protests and visit high-crime areas to observe officers’ actions.

To accomplish the any variation of that, capital is needed. But so is creativity.

Capital can be sought – philanthropy and the private sector can be a huge asset in bolstering civilian oversight of police – but creativity can’t be taught. And if creative thinkers don’t populate City Hall, then Philly’s citizens have a duty to change that.

Christopher “Flood the Drummer” Norris is an an award-winning journalist and activist who has covered and participated in police-reform and anti-police-violence movements since 2014. In addition to serving as the CEO of Techbook Online, he co-hosts “Pushback,” a social-justice podcast produced and distributed by Philadelphia magazine and WURD Radio. Follow him on Twitter @floodthedrummer.