An independent citizen-driven police oversight board with authority and teeth has eluded this city for decades. If there was any doubt of that, the Police Advisory Commission’s statement following the Starbucks incident in which police arrested two black men speaks volumes: It issued a statement saying that police acted “in accordance to the law” and that the two men might not have been legally entitled to be at the coffee shop.
Those are hardly the sentiments that would give citizens the idea someone is advocating on their behalf in police matters. For years, the city has shown its lack of priorities in this area by pathetically underfunding this office. A question on the ballot next week calls for adding $500,000 to the PAC’s budget. The obvious vote is yes.
Keep in mind, though, that while that might elevate the PAC’s current budget to somewhere in the neighborhood of $750,000, it’s a fraction of what it should be. For example, Berkeley, Calif., (population 121,000) has budgeted $740,000 for its. Chicago passed an ordinance last year that would set funding for its office of police accountability to be no less than 1 percent of the police department’s budget. In Philadelphia, that would translate into a budget of at least $6 million.
The PAC needs to be an independent voice with a stable staff that investigates incidents involving police and helps shape the department’s relationship with the community. The commission needs teeth and that can come only if members do a better job bringing their case to the people.
Two additional questions are on the ballot next Tuesday covering the new school board, and sexual harassment training.
In a poorly worded ballot question, a charter amendment would grant City Council power to approve new members of the Board of Education selected by the administration. The question is misleading because it asks voters if they want to “restore local control.” Philadelphia already has local control thanks to an effort by Mayor Kenney last year that led to the state authorizing the dissolution of the School Reform Commission and replacing it with a local board.
Granting Council approval of members makes sense because they will have to approve school budgets and take the heat if and when taxes must be raised to support schools. Vote yes.
A third question asks the city to not only train managers to stop sexual harassment but to include employees as well. Vote yes.