CITIZENS POLICE OVERSIGHT COMMISSION LEGISLATION MOVES FORWARD IN CITY COUNCIL
Legislation establishing a new Citizens Police Oversight Commission, with subpoena power to investigate citizens’ complaints against police, is moving forward in City Council.
The oversight commission bill advanced out of Council’s Public Safety Committee and received a first reading in Council on Thursday. The legislation was introduced in Council in February by Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District), who chairs the Public Safety panel.
The legislation creating the Citizens Police Oversight Commission will replace an existing Police Advisory Board that has been in existence for a number of years, but has lacked subpoena powers or legal authority to more fully investigate complaints against police.
The new Oversight Commission will have authority to issue subpoenas to compel witness testimony or documents for investigations, retain their own Counsel, and make disciplinary and policy recommendations to the Police Department.
They will receive and investigate all citizens’ complaints against police and will have the ability to receive and investigate in limited circumstances complaints that police department employees make against a fellow officer.
In addition to citizens’ complaints, the Commission will investigate incidents when an officer discharges a firearm and incidents where someone dies or is seriously injured during a police interaction. They will have direct access to crime scene interviews and investigatory files, which is subject to applicable state law.
A selection panel will be formed to solicit applications from members of the public who are interested in serving on the new commission. The legislation envisions an initial annual budget of approximately $1.9 Million.
Councilmember Jones, Council’s Majority Whip, said: “The purpose of the Citizens Police Oversight Commission legislation is three-fold – to restore public confidence, to provide a fair and equitable process of citizens’ complaints, and to create better police-community interactions.”
“This legislation is a result of months of hard work to answer the call of our residents across Philadelphia to create a commission that will increase police oversight and transparency,” said Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District). “I look forward to continuing to work with Councilmember Jones and other members to create a vigorous, fair commission with real teeth to conduct appropriate oversight of the police department.”
BUDGET HEARINGS CONTINUE WITH TESTIMONY FROM DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE, COURTS, PUBLIC DEFENDER, OTHER AGENCIES
After a pause for the city’s municipal primaries for City Controller, District Attorney, and judicial elections, Council resumed its ongoing hearings on the proposed city budget for Fiscal 2022. On Wednesday, fresh off their primary victories, District Attorney Larry Krasner and Controller Rebecca Rhynhart made their respective cases for more funding and resources to fully operate their agencies after a pandemic year that saw budgets reduced across the government.
The DA and Controller were joined during the budget hearing on Wednesday by Sheriff Rochelle Bilal, officials with the First Judicial District, and also the Defender Association, represented by interim Chief Defender Alan J. Tauber.
Council has now held hearings on all the major agencies in city government, as well as the county row offices and the School District of Philadelphia. The next step in the process are callbacks, when Council asks select departments to return to answer additional questions from Councilmembers who will vote on the full budget. Next week, Council will hold callback hearings on May 24 with the Office of Children and Families, which includes the Department of Human Services, Parks and Recreation and the Free Library, and on May 26 with Licenses and Inspections, Public Property and the Register of Wills.
Council will then begin its deliberations among members, and with the Mayor’s office, to find common ground and vote to approve a city budget before the end of June, as required by law.
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IN OTHER NEWS…
Council Passes Resolution Calling for City to Fly Flag of the Republic of Azerbaijan on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The resolution, offered by Councilmember David Oh (At Large), noted that 19 nations’ flags were added to the Parkway’s display in 2010, and made the case to expand that list to include Azerbaijan. A number of Azerbaijani-American citizens testified during public comment and requested that their home country’s flag to fly above the Parkway.
Council Names a Local Dog Park in Honor of a Center City Community Activist. Council heard a heartfelt series of comments from neighborhood residents of the Logan Square area in Center City, before voting in favor of naming a dog park in honor of Rob Stuart, a longtime community advocate for an array of issues, ranging from public access along the Schuylkill River Trail to gun violence prevention to many others. Mr. Stuart died suddenly in 2011. After hearing from his widow, Sarah, and other neighborhood residents, Councilmembers spoke positively of Rob Stuart and what he meant to them and Philadelphia. “I became the first African American Councilmember of the Second District in part because of Rob Stuart,” said Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson. “He encouraged me and worked with me at every turn.”
OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK
PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, May 27, 2021 at 10 a.m. The Meeting will be held remotely due to the ongoing pandemic, and will air on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40 and stream at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.