Philly City Council to Kenney: ‘We cannot accept’ increased police budget

Isaac Gardner, 11, joined chief defender Keir Bradford-Grey and Philadelphia County Sheriff Rochelle Bilal in protest of the Black lives lost to police brutality. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Isaac Gardner, 11, joined chief defender Keir Bradford-Grey and Philadelphia County Sheriff Rochelle Bilal in protest of the Black lives lost to police brutality. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated: 7:40 p.m.

Council majority pushes for major changes to Philly Police Department

As protesters around the country continue to decry the police killing of George Floyd, more than a dozen members of Philadelphia City Council have sent a letter to Mayor Jim Kenney calling for changes to the city’s police department.

“Policing is difficult, dangerous work. It is vitally important work. For exactly those reasons, the Police Department must earn and maintain the trust of the communities it serves. Sadly, most of our vulnerable citizens feel less safe, no moreso, in the presence of our police,” reads part of the letter sent Monday.

While other city departments are facing budget cuts due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the Philadelphia Police Department is in line to receive nearly $23 million in new funding during the next fiscal year. (That increase includes not just the $14 million in new spending Kenney outlined in a revised budget, but also another $5.2 million the mayor had sought in a previous draft, plus a $3.7 million increase to the PPD’s capital budget.)

Given those cuts, and the fact that the department’s budget has increased by $120 million since 2016, councilmembers who signed the letter say they “cannot accept” spending more money on police. Council will hold a hearing on the police budget Wednesday.

Saying the department faced a “crisis of legitimacy,” the letter also lays out 15 policy changes aimed at ensuring “transparency and accountability,” including:

  • Expanding independent police oversight and reporting of civilian complaints and internal investigations
  • Having an early warning system aimed at limiting police misconduct
  • Establishing an “explicit” prohibition on sitting or kneeling on a person’s neck, face or head
  • Allowing community members and outside experts to participate in the collective bargaining process between the city and its police union
  • Restoring residency requirements for police personnel (Since 2010, Philadelphia police officers have been allowed to live outside the city after at least five years on the job.)

Fourteen of the 17 members of City Council signed the letter. Only Councilmembers Brian O’Neil, David Oh and Bobby Henon did not attach their names.

Here’s the full letter.

‘We are sick of lip service’

Members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus took control of the State House today to demand action on a suite of police reform bills.

Flanked by a banner reading “Black Lives Matter,” representatives filibustered for over an hour, delivering impassioned speeches that touched on their experiences as Black Americans.

“We are sick of lip service, we want change,” said Rep. Malcom Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), straining his voice to be heard without a microphone.

They also invited the chamber to kneel for eight minutes and forty-six seconds — the time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck.

The lawmakers asked Republican leaders who control the chamber to call votes on a package of 19 police reform bills, which include creating a database of officer complaints and outlawing police chokeholds. Some of the bills have languished in committee for over a year. 

Caucus members began their speeches shortly before 1p.m. when a regular House session was set to begin.

After about 90 minutes of speeches, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) was allowed to take control of the rostrum and called for a special legislative session dealing specifically with police reform. Turzai acknowledged his privilege as a white man, and said he was in solidarity with those fighting racism, but stopped short of saying he would support the reform bills in question.

“The opportunity is before us to move forward and look at the legislation that has been proposed,” Turzai said.

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Protests continue in Philly

During the 10th day of protests in Philadelphia over police brutality, hundreds have taken to the streets in Center City for the “Defender March for Black Lives,” a rally organized by a loose coalition of local public defenders to protest the killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Ahmaud Arbery.

Myra Clemens, an administrative staff member with the Public Defenders association led chants in front of the Roundhouse Monday. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The demonstration is also about showing support for the Defender Association of Philadelphia, which is facing pandemic-fueled budget cuts as the Kenney administration proposes nearly $23 million in new funding for the Philadelphia Police Department.

Reuben Jones, executive director of Frontline Dads, calls for an end to mass incarceration in front of the Federal Detention Center at 7th and Arch Streets. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“The Public Defender represents about 70, 80 percent of the indigent clients across the city. And if we’re gonna have due process, we need to have an even playing field so that all parties have equality and fairness,” said Reuben Jones, executive director of Frontline Dads, durning a march down Arch Street.

Keir Bradford-Grey, chief defender of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, calls for racial justice outside the CJC Monday. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The march has stopped at the Federal Detention Center, ICE Field Office, Family Court and Philadelphia Police Department headquarters.

The march is expected to end in front of the Criminal Justice Center. There, demonstrators plan to take a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck.

“I don’t want the police completely defunded, but I would definitely like them to have more non-lethal take-down training and to be more considerate of the people they are arresting. You don’t know someone is a criminal until they have their day in court,” said a protester who asked to be identified as Blue Thorn.

Protesters confronted Philadelphia police and National Guard members at the Roundhouse Monday, asking “who do you protect?” (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

This is the second day in a row Philadelphia will not implement a citywide curfew. The city has also announced there will be no traffic restrictions Monday.

Hassan Bennett, who was wrongfully convicted of 2nd degree murder in 2006 and acquitted after acting as his own attorney and now works with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, joined protesters in front of the Roundhouse Monday afternoon. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Sunday featured peaceful protests in and around Center City, including a demonstration in front of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Fairmount, where people demanded that more low-risk offenders be released from state prisons and city jails during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bologna arraigned

As another day of protests got under way, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 released a second statement about Chief Inspector Joe Bologna, who is facing criminal charges after he was caught on camera striking a Temple University student in the back of the head with a metal police baton during a protest last Monday near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

In it, lodge President John Mcnesby says the FOP will “vigorously defend” the 30-year veteran against “these baseless allegations and charges.”

“This latest rush to judgement by District Attorney Larry Krasner clearly illustrates his anti-law enforcement agenda in Philadelphia. Our union and police officers will not stand by and watch Inspector Bologna get railroaded by a politically, opportunistic DA, who has turned his back on Philadelphia police and the city,” said McNesby.

Bologna, who has a history of misconduct and is linked to past corruption scandals, was charged with aggravated assault and other offenses on Friday. Before being removed from street patrol duty last week, he was operations commander of the department’s patrol bureau, a bicycle-mounted police unit that runs interference for protests and special events.

Bologna turned himself over to authorities Monday morning to be booked and arraigned. He was greeted by a crowd of supporters as he left the FOP lodge enroute to the 15th Police District.

The FOP has also made up T-shirts – reading “Bologna Strong” – for members to show their support.

Following the release of a viral video depicting Bologna striking a student, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said she had initiated an internal affairs investigation into possible misconduct.

Shortly after Outlaw’s statement, Krasner filed criminal charges.

“This moment demands a swift and even-handed response to violent and criminal acts based on the facts and evidence,” Krasner said in a statement Friday. “Americans are taking to the streets to demand a remaking of political, economic, and legal systems that serve the powerful at the expense of citizens’ health, welfare, and lives. There can be no safety or peace without justice. My office will continue to hold people who cause harm to others equally accountable.”

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