Aug 29, 2023 - News

Philadelphia police watchdog footage restored after porn "hack"

Illustration of a fight between a man with a rolled-up newspaper and a police officer with a billy club.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Philadelphia's police watchdog was taken offline for weeks after an incident involving pornography on its YouTube page at a meeting earlier this month.

Driving the news: YouTube restored archived footage of Citizens Police Oversight Commission meetings on Monday, the same day Axios asked why the videos were inaccessible.

  • CPOC interim executive director Anthony Erace told Axios a hacker was responsible for pornography being broadcast during the virtual Aug. 1 meeting.
  • Commissioners halted the meeting following the "inappropriate" incident, but YouTube still flagged it, CPOC chair Jahlee Hatchett said.
  • The agency appealed the suspension but had no luck getting footage of past meetings restored until Monday, according to Erace.

Why it matters: Public transparency advocates say the recorded meetings are important to show the public how commissioners have handled law enforcement accountability issues over the last year.

The big picture: The police watchdog has been mired by infighting and claims that it has lacked transparency since being established.

What they're saying: Erace said the agency is taking steps to ensure it's not compromised again.

Of note: The police watchdog only acknowledged the suspension after Axios discovered that the footage was missing online.

  • A YouTube spokesperson told Axios that CPOC's account had been suspended for violating the platform's policies on nudity and sexually explicit content.
  • The Aug. 1 video will remain offline but other videos are back up, the spokesperson said.

Between the lines: Pennsylvania's sunshine law only requires government agencies to post agendas and meeting minutes, public transparency experts tell Axios.

  • Yes, but: The police watchdog chose to film the meetings, so the footage is considered public record that must be provided under the state's Right to Know law.

The bottom line: Experts advised Philadelphia's police watchdog to switch to a city-run online forum so YouTube can't act as gatekeeper to the public videos.

  • "Having [the footage] taken away negatively impacts the press and the public," says Gunita Singh at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

What we're watching: CPOC's next meeting is Sept. 5.


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