Apr 2, 2024 - News

Police watchdog hiring new leader

Photo illustration of a Philadelphia police badge on a plate from the scales of justice.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Department of Justice

Philadelphia police's watchdog group is expected to hire Tonya McClary as its new leader after more than a year of searching, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: McClary, who held similar roles in Dallas and New Orleans, brings expertise to an agency bracing for a potential legal fight with the police union over the future of police oversight in Philadelphia.

Driving the news: The Citizens Police Oversight Commission is expected to announce McClary's appointment today at a board meeting.

What they're saying: McClary, a lawyer and a pastor, confirmed to Axios that she was offered the job but said she hasn't yet relocated to Philadelphia.

  • "I don't have too many comments right now. I need to kinda just get there and get myself on the ground and get rolling," she said.

Behind the scenes: Axios has learned that an outside firm interviewed at least five candidates before extending an offer to McClary.

  • McClary would replace interim executive director Anthony Erace, who has led the police watchdog since the City Council established it nearly three years ago.
  • Erace didn't respond to a message requesting comment.
  • The agency hasn't offered details about McClary's job, but they will likely be made public at today's meeting.

Catch up quick: McClary inherits a daunting task as CPOC's new leader as the agency determines its path forward after Erace's tenure, which has been marred by controversy and infighting among commissioners.

  • Last year, some commissioners wanted Erace replaced by Richard Rivera, a former police officer and the current police director in Penns Grove, New Jersey.
  • Three commissioners resigned after an offer was extended to Rivera, pointing to a city law they said excluded former police officers from consideration.
  • Their departures forced the board to pull the plug on the initial search and hire an outside firm, Jane HR, in September to conduct a new search.

Yes, and: CPOC hasn't conducted a single investigation into a citizen's complaint in nearly three years and could face a court fight with the police union over its ability to conduct independent misconduct investigations into officers.

  • Mayor Cherelle Parker also proposed flat-funding CPOC at $3 million this year, which is still about $2 million more than McClary's budget in Dallas.

The bottom line: McClary faced similar roadblocks while leading Dallas' Community Police Oversight Board, where she became the first civilian to access departmental internal affairs records, per the Dallas Morning News.

  • Dallas' police union discouraged officers from sitting for interviews with the watchdog because a local law allowed them to blow off subpoenas without repercussions.
  • After three years, McClary left her Dallas position in September but didn't say whether those struggles contributed to her leaving.
  • She had been a finalist for police monitor in Boulder, Colorado, in 2023, per the Dallas Morning News.

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