As Philadelphians process the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man, Council President Darrell Clarke kicked off a press conference about police reforms saying what many residents are thinking.
“Here we go again, right?” he said, a nod to longstanding efforts to change what policing looks like in the city.
Clarke and the handful of colleagues who joined him didn’t introduce any new plans to transform policing, which was part of a larger point they were trying to make in drawing attention to several ballot questions voters can decide in the Nov. 3 election.
“This City Council did not wait for this one incident to start on reforms,” said Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr.
These initiatives on November ballots would amend the city’s Home Rule Charter. One would revamp the Police Advisory Commission, described by critics as “beyond toothless” and underfunded, with a Citizens Police Oversight Commission. Wallace’s deadly shooting interrupted a virtual hearing Monday about the ballot question and drove home the urgency of the issue, supporters said in raw testimonies.
Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez stressed the need to hold officers accountable to training and policy changes to prevent another death like Wallace’s.
“Two people with a gun should not be leading a response to that kind of call. That’s the kind of reform we’re working towards, so let’s keep our eyes on that prize,” said Quiñones-Sánchez.
Voters also have a chance to decide, through a ballot measure, if the city should create an Office of Victim Advocate. The proposed office would help those who experience a crime connect to needed social services.
As with other reforms only recently codified in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, such as banning chokeholds, Councilmember Cherelle Parker acknowledged voting on something like the stop-and-frisk question may seem redundant.
“The fact of the matter is despite the … consent decree, despite the third party oversight that will review the data collected from the stops, those unconstitutional stops are still taking the city of Philadelphia,” she said.
Jones made the case for how writing these reforms into city law gives Philadelphians additional protections, creating a “ruling guide that says these are the do’s and these are the don’ts of being a Philadelphia Police Officer,” he said.
But Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson also highlighted the roadblocks she and her colleagues face when trying to create change.
City Council passed a bill in a September 15-2 vote that would allow the public to weigh in before the city approves a new police contract, but that bill is now being challenged by the Fraternal Order of Police in court.