Ousted chief of police advisory panel blamed for tardy investigations

Posted: July 18, 2012

THE POLICE ADVISORY Commission was facing more work than it could handle, and its members felt that its executive director, William Johnson, wasn't doing enough to ensure timely investigations.

The friction appeared during the commission's public meeting in April and led to Johnson's removal on Thursday from the post he'd held since 2004. The commission, a civilian oversight board that hears citizen complaints against police and makes recommendations to the police commissioner, has a backlog of complaints dating back to 2009.

"Cases that linger don't help," said commission Chairwoman Ronda Goldfein. "Was it the best use of our resources to keep [cases] on the books if nothing is being done on them?"

Goldfein said that members tried to work with Johnson for months to make the commission, which is often described as toothless, more efficient.

In a statement, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said: "Mr. Johnson always kept Philadelphians first in his mind and worked hard to improve police-community relations, but the time for change had arrived and the commission strongly believed it was time for new leadership. The administration fully concurred in that assessment."

Johnson, who has worked with the commission in various capacities for 14 years, argued at that meeting that older cases needed to remain open because they still were being investigated.

"My only concern was doing my job," Johnson said. "The difference is [the commissioners] don't always understand what is needed. There were several cases that needed to reach a conclusion so we could provide answers to the complainants."

Kelvyn Anderson, the commission's deputy director, was selected as interim executive director pending a search for a permanent leader. Goldfein said that the commission will spend the summer examining its procedures and resume public meetings in September.

"We made our thoughts clear to Gillison, ‘If you want to do things differently, we're prepared to do that, but we think we need new blood,' " Goldfein said.

City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who had sponsored legislation in January proposing to make the commission more independent, said he was disappointed about Johnson's removal.

"I think he was a good man given an impossible task with very limited resources," Jones said. "Instead of giving him the tools to be successful, they blamed him."

The commission has two investigators and a budget of $275,000 this year.

"The change is really needed," Johnson said. "But it won't happen until the administration commits more resources." n

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

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