Judge upholds releasing names of Philly cops involved in shootings within 72 hours

Philadelphia Police Department headquarters at 7th and Race streets. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia Police Department headquarters at 7th and Race streets. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel Anders has decided that city officials can continue releasing the names of officers in police-involved shootings within 72 hours.

Following a brief hearing Friday afternoon, Anders said halting the policy would harm the city more than the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5.

Anders added that the FOP failed to prove that the policy puts officers and their families in danger.

Afterwards, Philadelphia City Solicitor Sozi Tulante praised the ruling, saying it maintains an important vehicle for transparency within the police department.

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“What happens after an officer-involved shooting? People are hungry for information. They want to know what happened. If you have transparency, you ease tensions. You build trust,” said Tulante. “We don’t want a Ferguson. We don’t want a Chicago, Baltimore, even a St. Louis.”

FOP President John McNesby said his union would continue fighting to change the 2015 policy.

“We’re not all about throwing it out the window. We just don’t want it within three days. The investigation isn’t even in the area of being complete,” he said. “It’s still in its very early stages. All we’re merely asking is a delay in the release of the names.”

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President John McNesby is shown speaking at a Back the Blue rally at the FOP lodge in Northeast Philadelphia on Aug. 31. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks)

In filing the suit, the FOP had hoped to halt the policy until the state decides whether it violates Pennsylvania labor law.

A second hearing before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board is scheduled for Dec. 11.

In late September, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 filed a complaint against the city, seeking a change in policy.

The FOP has argued the city violated state labor laws by “unilaterally” adopting the policy without first bargaining with the union.

Citing a recent protest outside the Northeast Philadelphia home of a soon-to-be fired officer, the suit also contends the policy puts officers’ lives in danger.

According to the complaint, the “plaintiff, by and through its members, would suffer immediate and substantial harm, particularly with regard to their well-being and the safety of their families.”

On Sept. 24, about a dozen members of Black Lives Pennsylvania — whom McNesby later referred to as a “pack of rabid animals” — gathered outside Officer Ryan Pownall’s house in city’s Bustleton section.

Through a bullhorn, protesters threatened the veteran cop and his family, who were also home at the time.

Pownall, who is currently suspended from the force, fatally shot David Jones in the back during a routine traffic stop in North Philadelphia, an incident Commissioner Richard Ross boiled down to “poor judgment.”

Responding to the protest outside Pownall’s home, city attorneys said it was unpleasant, but lawful. Additionally, “the alleged harm was not immediate, and, in fact, occurred more than two months after the release of his name.”

The police department’s policy of releasing officer names was implemented in July 2015 with hopes of boosting transparency, accountability and public trust in the department.

It came in response to recommendations put forth in a report from the U.S. Department of Justice, compiled at the request of then-Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey following a “spike” in police involved shootings between 2007 and 2014.

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