By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia City Council opened its fall session today with one controversial matter front and center: whether to put more teeth into the civilian panel that studies cases of police misconduct.
Councilman Curtis Jones has introduced a plan to make the twenty-year-old Police Advisory Commission a permanent, independent panel, with better funding and more staffing.
“Citizens need to have confidence in a process that works both for police officers — keeping them safe from false accusations — but also for citizens to have a form of recourse when they feel as though they are wronged,” Jones said today.
He first floated the idea two years ago, and says he was motivated to revive it because of the strife in Ferguson, Mo. last month.
“I would be disingenuous if I didn’t look to Ferguson as a cautionary tale: people who don’t believe in a process, people who feel that no matter what they say, it goes unheard. And we cannot have that in Philly,” Jones says.
John McNesby, head of the local Fraternal Order of Police, says there’s no need to beef up the current Police Advisory Commission.
“There’s already a number of agencies that look over police and their conduct,” McNesby told KYW Newsradio. “We have Internal Affairs. We have the district attorney’s office, the inspector general’s office. I don’t think we need another agency just to second-guess what police officers are out there doing when they have a split second to make a decision.”
Jones believes the current Police Advisory Commission — created by order of then-mayor Ed Rendell in late 1993 — is ineffective, and says that relying on the police department’s Internal Affairs unit is not sufficient.
“I think they (IAD) are a part of it, and there is a legitimate role for them,” Jones said today. “But there is also a role for review of the citizens, as opposed to internal police investigations.”
If City Council approves Jones’ proposal, voters would see a ballot referendum to change the city charter in order to make the panel independent.
Members of the commission, Jones says, would then be chosen with input from the FOP, the ACLU, and other groups.
McNesby says the FOP will “talk to our friends on Council” to reiterate the FOP’s opposition to the idea.