PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Police Department has made a “substantial effort” to implement reforms in its use of deadly force and is an example for the country amid the current climate of community and police tensions, federal officials said Friday.
The city’s police department had been part of a collaborative effort with the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office to make changes to its culture and policy since 2013.
The Justice Department found a troubled agency it said was motivated by fear and a use of force that disproportionately affected black people. But by December 2015, the Justice Department praised Philadelphia for making a remarkable turnaround on 91 recommendations for improvement.
In an interim report Friday, the federal office’s director, Ronald Davis, said the Philadelphia police have completed 61 of the recommendations — up from 21 about a year ago — and has made “demonstrable progress” on 22.
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“We will never get comfortable,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross. “This does not mean we’re at the finish line. This is the path we need to take, and we’re willing to do that. We do realize there are issues in policing.”
Officer-involved shootings have steadily declined in Philadelphia over the past decade. In 2007, there were more than 60. In 2015, there were 23.
City officials announced this month that violent crime is at its lowest in Philadelphia in a generation. Also, the amount of shooting incidents reported in the city in 2016 was 1,591 — the lowest total in six years. But the number of shooting victims was 1,280 — the highest number since 2011.
Nationwide, the overall crime rate is lower now than it was 20 years ago.
The past three years have been marked by a national conversation and unrest around community policing in minority neighborhoods, sparked by the deaths of unarmed black males in Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland; New York City; Charleston, South Carolina; and Chicago. The Justice Department has announced numerous investigations into such departments around the country, uncovering a culture of bias, lack of trust and the need for training.
The Philadelphia department volunteered to undergo federal scrutiny and its reforms are voluntary, not part of a consent decree.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder and outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch were both supportive of criminal justice reforms; it is unclear whether the next attorney general under Republican Donald Trump, who will be sworn in next week, will prioritize the issue. Officials at Friday’s press conference said they remain committed to continued progress on their efforts.
“The police reforms will not be rolled back in Philadelphia,” said Mayor Jim Kenney, who also announced the establishment of a permanent police advisory committee Friday. “We don’t know what’s coming but we will continue to improve the relationship between the police department and our communities because it is vital to having a safe and productive city.
“I want every parent and every grandparent in the city, regardless of where they live, to be able to tell their teenage child, ‘Find a police officer. He’ll help you,'” the Democratic mayor said.
Ross added that he will continue to talk about the benefits of police reform and believes his peers across the country are receptive to making changes.
“I don’t just associate with police officers … That helps me to maintain perspective,” Ross said. “Some (people) don’t always have the most favorable opinions about police because of their own experiences. There are people who don’t like the police and are justified in doing so. We want to try to work with as many people as possible.”
Philadelphia Police Department: http://www.phillypolice.com
Errin Haines Whack covers urban affairs for The Associated Press.