Philly voters approve ballot questions on police oversight panel, stop-and-frisk

The questions were among four on the ballot in Philadelphia. Also approved: a city victim advocate office and a $134M bond issue.

Protesters gather at Malcolm X Park responding to the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Protesters gather at Malcolm X Park responding to the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia voters approved two ballot measures furthering the city’s efforts for police reform. The two approvals will establish a Citizens Police Oversight Commission and constitutionally ban stop and frisk.

The measures come amid more police scrutiny after the police killing of Walter Wallace, Jr. in West Philadelphia last Monday. The shooting occurred around the same time City Council’s Special Committee on Criminal Justice Reform held a hearing to get public feedback on what police oversight could look like in the city.

The commission would be an overhaul of the current Police Advisory Commission, which recently came under new leadership. Former executive director Hans Menos left the commission to take a position at the Center for Policing Equity, a national advocacy group that partners with police departments to address inequality in law enforcement. Anthony Erace, who served with Menos as the former deputy executive director of the commission, took over as the new acting executive director.

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As for stop and frisk, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania reports that Black Philadelphians make up about 44% of the city population but are 71% of all stops and 82% of all frisks.

The ballot measures are among several council efforts looking to reel in unjust policing. City council recently passed a resolution set to ban the police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other “less lethal munitions” during protests.

Mayor Jim Kenney in September signed two reform bills into law. One would require public input during collective bargaining between the city and the police department during contract negotiations. The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 sued the city in October to block that measure from taking hold, arguing that it unfairly singles out the law enforcement union. The second would ban the use of chokeholds or restraints that can lead to asphyxiation and has not faced a public challenge from the FOP.

The two ballot measures were among four presented on Tuesday’s ballot.

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The other two were also approved. One would create an Office of the Victim Advocate, which would “advocate for crime victims and to work with victim-services providers to coordinate, plan, train, educate, and investigate issues relating to crime victims.”

The office would operate within the mayor’s administration. With City Council’s approval, the mayor would appoint the head of the office, regarded as the “Victim Advocate.” The duties would include advocating for victims of crimes, ensuring they know their rights, boost cooperation among agencies that service crime victims, and offer training, and support to agencies that work with crime victims.

The measure’s approval comes as city homicides have exceeded 400. Last year’s number was 356.

The other ballot measure approved the issue of $134 million in municipal bonds to fund capital projects in the city.

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