Sep 18, 2023 - News

Philly police made progress in discipline reforms, says report

Illustration of a police badge wrapped up in yellow tape that reads, "Police Line Do Not Cross."

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Philadelphia's police watchdog says fewer officers are getting slaps on the wrist over allegations of serial misconduct.

Driving the news: The number of disciplinary cases resolved with training and counseling dropped more than 40% in 2022, per a new report from the Citizens Police Oversight Commission (CPOC).

  • That's an improvement that the agency says shows more officers are being truly held accountable for misconduct.

Catch up fast: The Philadelphia Police Department overhauled its disciplinary system when signing a new labor contract in 2021, following calls for police reform across the nation after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

  • Under the changes, CPOC has some sway in disciplinary decisions. In about 10% of cases in 2022, the watchdog agency recommended upgrading charges, and more than half of the time the department agreed.

Flashback: Between 2015 and 2020, CPOC found that more than three-quarters of cases involving alleged "sustained misconduct" against Philly officers were handled with training and counseling instead of more serious consequences.

  • CPOC says that's a problem because it's a "non-disciplinary outcome" that was used far too often, including for officers who repeatedly committed serious infractions.
  • After the reform overhaul, the Police Department adopted guidelines so officers receive counseling and training in "narrower circumstances," per the report.

The latest: The agency reports that now about 60% of police officers who were accused of repeated misconduct faced disciplinary charges in the more than 270 cases it reviewed last year.

What they're saying: CPOC interim executive director Anthony Erace tells Axios the disciplinary system is overburdened and takes too long to resolve cases.

  • "You have a system that's trying to move people through instead of trying to achieve just outcomes," he said.

By the numbers: As of January, there was still a backlog of more than 600 disciplinary cases with some listed as "on hold," per the report.

  • The average time from complaint to charges is 409 days – down from 463 in 2017.
  • That's problematic because more than 2,300 Philadelphians surveyed in 2022 said they were less likely to report misconduct if it'd take more than a year to resolve their cases.

The bottom line: CPOC will continue checking the department and "have a voice" in whoever succeeds outgoing commissioner Danielle Outlaw, Erace tells us.

  • "The keys in policy work are process and persuasion," he says. "People don't want to say no to good ideas."
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