Philadelphia (June 12, 2020) –Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) introduced two pieces of legislation dealing with accountability in the Philadelphia Police Department.
The first bill is an ordinance that would prohibit certain types of physical contact by law enforcement officers (peace officers) in Philadelphia to prevent unnecessary death or injury via asphyxiation. If approved by Council, the “Let Philly Breathe” bill would prohibit the use of restraints or other physical contact that presents a substantial risk of asphyxiation by a peace officer to detain someone. Prohibited restraints include chokeholds, hogtying, and placement of body weight on the head, face, neck, chest or back.
Current internal police policy in Philadelphia prohibits some holds, but does not prohibit the knee-on-the neck hold that led to the death of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis on May 25. Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 second, two minutes and 53 seconds in which Floyd was responsible, according to the indictment filed against Chauvin. Other officers were on Floyd’s back as well. The Hennepin County (Minn) Medical Examiner has ruled Floyd’s death a homicide.
Floyd’s death has sparked massive protests and civil unrest nationwide, including Philadelphia.
“My ‘Let Philly Breathe’ bill outlaws physical contact by law enforcement officials that can make it difficult or impossible for a citizen to breathe,” said Johnson, Vice-Chair of Council’s Public Safety Committee and Chair of Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention. “What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis should never have happened and we want to be on the forefront to make sure that it doesn’t happen here in Philadelphia. Currently, Philadelphia Police Department policy does not prohibit the tactic used against Mr. Floyd. This bill will fix that problem.”
The Let Philly Breathe bill is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Curtis Jones, Jr., Cherelle Parker, Mark Squilla, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Bobby Henon, Allan Domb, Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, Isaiah Thomas, and Derek Green. This bill has been sent to committee for a future hearing.
During the June 11 session, Council approved Councilman Johnson’s resolution that authorizes the Committee on Public Safety to hold hearings to examine the community’s priorities on the collective bargaining process for the Philadelphia Police Department. The collective bargaining resolution is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Gilmore Richardson, Jones, Parker, Green, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Gauthier, Thomas, Domb, and Squilla.
“The Police Department labor contract with the Fraternal Order of Police dictates many aspects of transparency and accountability so public input is essential,” Johnson continued. “I believe wholeheartedly that the police reform bills introduced in City Council will build the trust between members of the Philadelphia Police Department and the citizens of Philadelphia and it will go a long way towards making us a safer city.”
Councilman Johnson on June 8 wrote and sent a letter to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, supported by 13 other members of Council, with a specified set of recommendations for policing reforms. The letter also said City Council would not support Kenney’s proposed $14 to $19 Million budget increase for the Philadelphia Police Department in the Mayor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget.
On June 9, Mayor Kenney responded to Johnson’s letter by agreeing to not give the Police Department the additional proposed funding and committed to working on police reforms.
Also during the June 11 City Council session, City Council introduced legislation that requires city residency for new police recruits before hiring, establishes a police civilian oversight commission that voters will consider in November, and requires public input before any collective bargaining agreement is reached with the city’s police union. Johnson is a co-sponsor of all of the legislation.
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