He's set to launch Police Advisory Commission bill

Posted: March 13, 2012

I S THE POLICE Advisory Commission on the road to becoming a permanent city agency? City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. told the Daily News yesterday that he plans to finally introduce legislation Thursday calling for a change to the Home Rule Charter to establish a permanent, independent PAC.

The commission, which looks into citizen complaints about police conduct, was created under a mayoral executive order 18 years ago and thus could be abolished at any time.

Jones' announcement comes a day after a Daily News article examined the commission's struggles, including a backlog of 129 cases and a lack of authority.

In January, Jones had said he planned to introduce the bill but it stalled while he discussed it with the Nutter administration. "[The commission] is trying to make steps in the right direction, but for many in Philadelphia that comes too slow and we can take a good thing and make it better," Jones said.

The measure will face strong opposition by the Fraternal Order of Police, however. "We will see to it that it doesn't get out of Council," said John McNesby, head of the FOP.

Nearly 20 years ago as a councilman, Mayor Nutter pushed to establish the commission. After a meeting yesterday between Jones and the administration, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said, "We continue to have conversations with the councilman - though at this time there is no agreement on a charter-change effort."

Under Jones' plan, members of the commission would include the police commissioner, the district attorney, the public defender, three mayoral appointees (down from the current eight), one appointee selected by each of the 10 district Council members, and one appointed by the Youth Commission.

The chair would be selected by the mayor, City Council president, the district attorney and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The commission would have to respond to a complaint within seven days and issue annual progress reports, as well as detailed information regarding its handling of cases.

Jones said that many citizens do not have faith in the underfunded and understaffed commission. The commission would also be able to petition Common Pleas Court if it didn't provide adequate funding.

"We are asking them to take on too big of a caseload," he said.

Under the executive order, the commission can deal only with matters pertaining to the Police Department, but it has been asked in the past to look into cases outside of its purview.

In March 2011, Everett Gillison - deputy mayor for public safety - asked the commission's executive director, William Johnson, if the commission could look into an alleged racial-profiling incident in Kensington by three First Judicial District warrant officers.

According to email correspondence between Johnson and James Crumlish III, a commission member and attorney with the firm Elliott Greenleaf, the commission had been asked in the past to review incidents unrelated to the Police Department. The commission took issue with such reviews because it never approved them.

In an email, Johnson said that it's not a regular occurrence and that he believed that the administration trusts the commission's work.

"Whether or not the deputy mayor has the authority to request such a review is the question," he wrote. "I believe that he does."

Gillison said he spoke with the commission last year about the issue and agreed that it did not have jurisdiction over the FJD warrant officers. He said it's his call whether to refer such a matter to the commission.

Contact Jan Ransom at 215-854-5218 or ransomj@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Jan_Ransom. Read her blog, "PhillyClout," at phillyclout.com.

comments powered by Disqus