Story by Janiece Scruggs
“Our administration and City Council are working together to expand accountability and transparency of the department and its officers with the implementation of the new Citizens Police Oversight Commission, ” Mayor Jim Kenney said during the bi-weekly gun violence meeting held virtually on Sept. 15.
The Citizens Police Oversight Commission (CPOC) is currently accepting applications. It replaces the existing Police Advisory Commission. The CPOC will be a standalone agency, completely independent of the police department.
According to the legislation, introduced by Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr., prospective commissioners should be residents of Philadelphia with experience in criminal justice and public safety, and demonstrate a commitment to the citizens of Philadelphia, as well as the improvement of law enforcement.
“What’s important is that the commission be viewed as fair to all citizens of Philadelphia, and that the process is understandable and transparent and, finally, that we give it the proper resources so it can actually perform its duties,” Jones said.
The commission will be comprised of nine citizen commissioners charged with independently investigating citizen complaints against the Philadelphia Police and have subpoena power, according to the legislation.
Benjamin Geffen, a staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Center, has been a commissioner on the Police Advisory Committee since 2015. He agrees that CPOC will have greater authority as its own independent agency.
“CPOC will have the authority to issue subpoenas,” he said. “And we could not flex that muscle.”
Anthony Erace, acting executive director of the Police Advisory Commission, said that the PAC is transitioning into the CPOC and they will continue “the good work.”
“The commission will provide more impactful oversight, auditing, monitoring, and transparency,” he said.
The City of Philadelphia will also be hiring investigators into CPOC, Erace said.
Commissioners will be chosen by a selection panel, appointed by Mayor Kenney and City Council, which includes former Philadelphia district attorneys, defense attorneys, and members of the clergy, Jones said. Prospective commissioners should not have worked for the Fraternal Order of Police or the Philadelphia Police Department within the last five years, he said.
“CPOC will work to improve police conduct, enhance the quality of internal investigations, and increase community engagement between the community and the department,” Kenney said.
In the past, the process of investigating citizen complaints against police officers through the PAC could take well over two years to be resolved. Or complaints would be closed with no resolution, Jones said.
“For far too long it’s not been transparent and totally trusted by citizens of Philadelphia,” he said.
Geffen said disagreements between the Police Advisory Commission and the Philadelphia Police Department were often a barrier to obtaining information.
“None of this happens without a fight,” Geffen said.
Recent legislation marks an investment in the CPOC and commitment to police reform, Jones said. He was optimistic that an improved commission, with resources and subpoena power, would bring real change.
“For far too long [oversight]’s been underfunded,” he said.
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