Nearly 10 months after the Justice Department released a scathing review of the Philadelphia Police Department, focusing on its routine use of deadly force and inadequate officer training, the DOJ released a new report Tuesday detailing tremendous progress made by the department.
In the months since the initial report, released in March as part of a collaborative reform process between the police department and the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), the Philadelphia PD has made progress or attained compliance on 90% of the 91 recommendations issued in the Spring.
Those recommendations included ways in which the department could address a spike in officer-involved shootings and use of deadly force. So far, the department has completed 21 of those recommendations, one is partially complete and 60 are in progress. The remaining nine include recommendations that require collective bargaining with the police union to achieve.
Ronald Davis, director of COPS, said the tremendous gains made by the Philadelphia police should serve as a model for other law enforcement agencies across the country that are struggling under calls for reform.
“Their progress is nothing less than amazing,” Davis said. “Because of their effort, we’re now making this department a national model.”
The new report is a break from dismal policing news that has been routine since the killing of Michael Brown in the summer of 2014 by a former police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then the call for police reform in departments across the country has been widespread and at times impassioned. A recently released report by the law enforcement watchdog group Mapping Police Violence reveals how routinely police in America shoot and kill citizens. Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 15, 2015, police killed at least 1,152 people. The report also notes that 59 out of the nation’s 60 largest police departments killed at least one person in 2015 and that black people were disproportionately killed by cops. Forty-one percent of those killed by police were black, while they only made up 20% of the population living in those cities.
The progress in Philadelphia was swift but gravely needed. In 2013, amid a rise in police-involved shootings and killings, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey requested a review by the COPS office. What investigators found was striking. According to the Justice Department’s report, the force routinely shot civilians, was inadequately trained and lacked a transparent review process of police-involved shootings.
Most of the people shot by police were young and black, and police often relied on the premise that simply fearing for their lives sufficed to justify use of deadly force, which led to more than twice as many black suspects being shot by police than whites.
And even as violence against police officers had fallen in the city in recent years, police-involved shootings rose, with an average of about one per week, according to the report.
Between 2007 and 2014, there were 394 officer-involved shootings in the city with an annual average of about 49. The victims were most often about 20 years old, and 81% were black, 9% were Hispanic and 8% were white. While the bulk of the people shot by Philadelphia police were black, whites who were shot were more likely to be unarmed at the time. Nearly 16% of black suspects shot by the police were unarmed compared to 25% of whites.
Commissioner Ramsey, in the waning days of his command of the department, offered statistics on Monday that showed just how much progress has been made.
In 2013, the year he requested assistance from the DOJ, he said police killed 11 people. So far in 2015 that number has tumbled to two. Of those two people killed one was shot by an off-duty officer while trying to rob a pizzeria and the other was a man being arrested for a homicide who shot a member of the arresting SWAT unit.
In 2013, Philadelphia police shot and wounded 24 people compared to eight in 2015. Yet, a few stats have gone in the opposite direction. So far this year suspects have fired on police seven times compared to six two years earlier. And in 2015, two officers have been shot and injured compared to none in 2013.
“We’re going to continue to work toward making sure anytime an officer uses force of any kind, they have use all of the proper tactics, that they absolutely had to use that amount of force to take someone into custody and then we will have a thorough review,” Ramsey said.