Emotions run high at forum on cop shootings

Posted: July 11, 2014

A HANDFUL OF U.S. Department of Justice officials found themselves neck-deep in a thick, simmering stew of raw emotion in City Council chambers last night.

The members of the DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office attended a packed two-hour forum, moderated by the Police Advisory Commission, to collect community feedback as part of an ongoing review of police-involved shootings in Philadelphia.

It didn't take long for things to get contentious.

"It's not comforting to me to hear you tell us that you're here to assess the situation," said Vivienne Crawford, counsel to the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Action Network.

Crawford lambasted the DOJ for not taking action when the National Action Network reached out to the department in 2008 and 2009 over concerns about police-involved shootings.

"Even in the worst days of [late Mayor] Frank Rizzo, things were not as bad as what we face today."

Matthew Smith Sr., the local chapter's president, said relatives of people fatally shot by cops often learn the results of investigations into the incidents only from newspaper reports.

"The families are left with the feeling that this is almost a hopeless matter," he said.

Some angrily called for cops involved in fatal shootings to be jailed. Others demanded greater transparency.

The DOJ was asked by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to review the department's use of deadly force after Philly.com reported in 2013 that police-involved shootings spiked in 2012, with cops firing at suspects 59 times, killing 16 of them.

The number of fatalities fell to 11 last year, and is at one so far this year, according to data on the Police Department's website.

Tawana Waugh, a COPS senior program specialist, told the audience in Council chambers last night that the agency ultimately will offer recommendations to the Police Department after conducting a thorough, 18-month review of its internal policies and standards. An initial report is due in the fall.

Waugh noted that the DOJ's civil-rights division also could look at the department's policies if concerns over excessive force linger.

Attorney Michael Coard, who was among those offering feedback, said the review is a "dog-and-pony show" that won't accomplish much.

Ramsey, who attended the forum, told the Daily News afterward that he considers the ongoing study important.

"I take it very seriously," he said. "If there's something we can do to lessen the chance that someone will be shot, or that an officer will be injured, then it's our responsibility to do that."

On Twitter: @dgambacorta

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