Katherine Gilmore Richardson

Katherine Gilmore Richardson

Philadelphians from all backgrounds and neighborhoods have joined together in recent weeks to demand an end to the systemic oppression and structural racism that has plagued our nation since before its founding.

In response to the murder of George Floyd and demands to reform public safety, I joined with a group of my colleagues in the city and at the state level — all of whom are young, Black legislators like me — in the Police Reform Working Group. We have proposed reform policies that require action at all levels of local and state government and will create meaningful change in the way police departments and officers operate and are held accountable.

Pennsylvania Act 111 is one of the laws that has inhibited our ability to implement reform. It requires all municipalities in the state to give police unions the right to collectively bargain labor contracts through binding arbitration. While I strongly support workers’ rights to unionize and collectively bargain, the process has been used by police unions as a sword and shield. A 2017 study found empirical evidence that these policies are barriers to accountability and that they have limited the effectiveness of other external reforms. In order to bring real change, we need a transparent contract process.

These contract negotiations include a wide range of topics from salary and benefits to scheduling to internal operating policies. For example, under the terms of previously negotiated contracts, Philadelphia police officers are able to appeal disciplinary actions or dismissals through a private arbitration process. An analysis by The Philadelphia Inquirer last year found that from 2011-2019, there were 170 cases in which the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) argued against an officer’s firing or discipline action by the Department. The alleged misconduct included such things as drug use, excessive use of force, prostitution, assault, harassment, domestic violence, death threats, and fighting. These cases were overturned or reduced more than two-thirds of the time, and they cost taxpayers roughly $5 million in back-pay and settlement agreements, in addition to the potentially unknown costs of reinstating officers with violent histories.

With such important and costly outcomes created by the terms of these labor contracts, it is vital that the public have the opportunity to provide input into the process.

That’s why I introduced a bill — co-sponsored by 11 of my colleagues Council members Cindy Bass, Kendra Brooks, Allan Domb, Jamie Gauthier, Derek Green, Kenyatta Johnson, Curtis Jones, Cherelle Parker, Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Mark Squilla and Isaiah Thomas — that would require a public hearing as part of the City's role in the contract negotiation process with the Fraternal Order of Police. In his response to a letter written by my colleague Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, which I signed, Mayor Kenney voiced support for this idea writing, “The City is committed to soliciting and sharing our collective bargaining requests with relevant stakeholders and the general public before the start of the negotiating or state Act 111 arbitration process.” My legislation will ensure that every Mayor will have to follow this process.

The calls to reform police departments across our nation have been heard loud and clear. As a Black woman and a mother, I too want to see change that will ensure no more Black men and women, boys and girls are murdered at the hands of those who are sworn to protect and serve. I agree we need to retool our vision for public safety, for justice and the gun violence crisis and work to reallocate resources. We need to invest more in the services and programs that keep people housed, healthy, educated, and employed. We need to use the vast spending power of our cities to show our residents what we value. As an elected representative of the people of Philadelphia, I am committed to making real and lasting change that will help us realize this vision.

This legislation is one piece in the large and complicated puzzle that has become public safety and law enforcement in America. By addressing the largest and most expensive part of the budget, as well as the process used to determine internal disciplinary policies, my bill can help replicate what has been so effective in this moment: the voice of the people to stand together and demand change.

More needs to be done before we can make up for hundreds of years of systematic inequities and structural racism, but these are important steps toward the future we want. I will keep fighting for that future. I will keep listening. I will keep acting.

Katherin Gilmore Richardson is a Philadelphia Councilwoman-at-Large

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