PHILADELPHIA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania calls upon Police Commissioner Ramsay to issue a police accountability plan to accompany the new crime plan, and to reinstate the Police Department Integrity and Accountability Office to help ensure that officers respect the constitutional rights of Philadelphians.
The ACLU agrees with Commissioner Ramsay that the only way to fight crime effectively is with a police force that is respectful, responsive and accountable to the community. Commissioner Ramsay's crime plan does not explain how the Department will ensure the professionalism and respect for residents and their rights that is essential to the success of this initiative.
Philadelphia residents have for years been subject to disrespectful, abusive and even deadly conduct by certain members of the Philadelphia Police Department. The number of residents shot and killed by police has risen at least as fast as the overall homicide rate, a statistic that does not appear in the Commissioner's plan.
Without a plan to make residents safe in their interactions with police, "community policing" could quickly become community harassment. The new crime plan contains several components - many aimed at non-violent crime - that could easily become the excuse for abuse and harassment. These tactics include "stop-and-frisk," increased police enforcement of traffic laws and youth curfews, using police to enforce order in schools, and police targeting of "nuisance" and "disorder" such as "broken windows."
If implemented correctly, such measures could increase the safety of our neighborhoods. If implemented without sufficient supervision, these tactics could all too easily result in an adversarial and fearful relationship between residents and police. We would see more arrests for non-violent crime, which would further clog our court system and subject even more residents who are already struggling economically with the added burden of criminal records. The results would be even worse for youth: 95 percent of Philadelphia youth who return from a juvenile detention center drop out of high school, leaving them few options other than a return to crime. We know that cycle does not lessen crime, but adds to it.
It was not so long ago that the "crime fighting" practices of the 39th Police District - one of the Targeted Enforcement Zones under the new plan - included racial profiling and harassment, fabrication of evidence and violent tactics by police. As a result of that scandal (and a suit by the NAACP, the ACLU, and attorneys David Rudovsky and Alan Yatvin), the Police Department established the Office of Integrity and Accountability to monitor potentially abusive police practices, like stop-and-frisk and traffic stops. Under the last mayoral administration, that office was left without leadership for three years before it was closed and its monitoring functions shut down in December 2007.
As a member of City Council, Mayor Nutter was instrumental in the establishment of the civilian Police Advisory Commission. While a candidate for mayor, Mr. Nutter described the Police Department Integrity and Accountability Office as "essential." Yet Commissioner Ramsay has made no plan to restore that office or create any equivalent within the Department to ensure that Philadelphia police officers pursue this new crime initiative in a respectful, fair and legal manner.
"This plan could work well, or could amount to a crackdown on the poorest and blackest neighborhoods in the city that will bring more arrests without stemming the violence," said Mary Catherine Roper, the Philadelphia staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The thing that will make the difference is whether individual officers are held accountable when they step across the line."
The ACLU of PA calls upon Commissioner Ramsay to restore the Office of Integrity and Accountability or a similar office within the Police Department. That Office should monitoring police actions on a daily basis, and particularly the implementation of the Department's new initiatives. The Office's findings should be made public so that the police are truly accountable to the public. Philadelphians deserve service and respect from their police force, and the only way to make that happen is to ensure there are consequences for police misconduct.