Philadelphia Police Must Change Tactics, Justice Department Says
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Many police officers in Philadelphia do not understand when it's OK to use deadly force. That is one stunning conclusion in a federal review released today. The U.S. Department of Justice went on to outline 91 recommendations to improve Philadelphia's Police Department. NPR's Jeff Brady has this story.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: After a series of police shootings over four days in 2013, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey asked the Justice Department to come in and take a hard look at his depart.
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CHARLES RAMSEY: I knew it wasn't going to be a report to come out talking about how great the Philadelphia Police Department is in every aspect of its operation.
BRADY: The review looked at seven years of police shootings - 394 in all. Ronald Davis heads the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, program.
RONALD DAVIS: The police commissioner asked the federal government to take a look at its policies, practices, training, investigations on the use of deadly force, and asked us to take a critical look. And so as the old phrase goes, you know, we know the truth hurts. But I think we all recognize selective ignorance is fatal.
BRADY: Among the findings, officers don't fully understand the law and the city's policies on the use of deadly force - also that officers believe fearing for their lives alone was justification. But it's more complicated than that. Officers are supposed to rely on more objective measures before using their gun. The Justice Department suggests more frequent and better training. The review contains a lot of statistics - 94 percent of officers involved in shootings were men. The average age of suspects was 20 years old, 15 percent of them were unarmed, 81 percent of them were black. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey was asked about that statistic specifically.
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RAMSEY: Well, about 85 percent of our homicide victims are African American. About 85 percent of people who do the homicide are African American. So that's right in the ballpark. I'm not - I'm - listen, in case you haven't noticed, I'm black myself so I'm not real proud of the fact that we have a disproportionate amount of crime occurring in African-American communities.
BRADY: The review comes after a recent police shooting in which the district attorney declined to file charges against the officer, calling the incident a tragedy, but not a crime. That's left the relationship between the Department and its critics even more tense than usual.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No justice
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: No peace.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No racist.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Police.
BRADY: Outside, a few protesters gathered. George Ciccariello-Maher with the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice says the police here have a reputation for being racist and brutal.
GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER: The goal of Commissioner Ramsey is to convince everyone that that has changed, and what we're saying is that until that actually changes on an everyday level, then we're not going to be happy with any number of reports.
BRADY: The Justice Department says it'll work with Philadelphia over the next 18 months to implement 91 recommendations. The police department says it's already started working on some of them. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.