Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw outlined dozens of police reforms on Tuesday to bolster oversight, transparency and diversity in the troubled police department.
As daily protests in the city over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis stretched into an 11th day, the mayor and commissioner unveiled 31 reforms that included establishing an independent Police Oversight Commission, updating use-of-force policies to prohibit officers from kneeling on a person’s neck, and pledging to provide quarterly reports on complaints made against officers.
“We want to approach these things open-mindedly but some of these things have to happen,” Kenney said during a video conference call with city officials and Outlaw.
The mayor also nixed his proposal to boost the police budget by $19 million after a veto-proof majority of City Council members rejected that proposal on Monday. City Council must approve a budget by June 30.
Kenney said the police budget will revert to spending levels from this year’s budget ($741 million), but did not rule out further cuts to the department or layoffs as his administration works with City Council to form a budget amid record revenue shortfalls due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The mayor said he did not have “specific conversations” with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the union for the police department, over the reforms.
Mike Neilon, a police union spokesman, said in an email the union did not have an immediate response to the mayor’s reform package.
The powerful police union, led by John McNesby, has squashed past attempts at reforms and won consistent pay raises for members.
Kenney said some of the reforms have already begun and those changes that can be accomplished through his office and City Council “will be done, I assume, sooner.”
The mayor had no firm timeline for reforms that require changes to state law and others which must be hashed out during union negotiations.
Many of the changes the mayor is seeking are enshrined in the police union’s collective bargaining agreement, including issues around the arbitration process of officers accused of wrongdoing and residency requirements. Kenney extended the police union's contract through June 30, 2021, after the coronavirus outbreak began in the city.
Kenney said the police union’s arbitration process for officers accused of misconduct was broken and prevents the current and past commissioners from taking more serious actions.
Kenney said he had a “pretty wide group of folks” who helped to develop the reforms, including City Council members, state officials and the Mayor’s Police Advisory Commission.
The Police Oversight Commission will have subpoena power and independently review civilian complaints and use-of-force incidents. The commission will have more power and be the successor of the Mayor’s Police Advisory Commission, which was limited to making recommendations.
Specifics about the commission have yet to be finalized, said city Managing Director Brain Abernathy.
Outlaw, who took over the department in February, said she expected to put out a quarterly report on the department’s Internal Affairs investigations that would detail civilian complaints against officers, findings and dispositions, among other things.
The commissioner did not rule out naming officers accused in the reports.
“As we’ve seen, depending on the egregiousness or, really, the impact on public safety, we’ll make that determination then on a case-by-case basis,” Outlaw said.
Outlaw also would seek to put in place a system to track serious misconduct by officers. She said she was not aware of any early warning systems to track rogue cops.
The mayor called for legislators in Harrisburg to overhaul state laws to help keep abusive officers off police forces; increase transparency of officers accused of wrongdoing; outlaw chokeholds; require mandatory drug testing of officers; and create an independent review process to investigate when police kill or seriously injure civilians, among other things.