Philly Council’s police reform plan would ban chokeholds, increase transparency on contract talks

(Image via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — City Council on Thursday put forward a package of law enforcement reforms that included banning neck restraints and expanding transparency around police union negotiations.

The five pieces of legislation were introduced as council members and Mayor Jim Kenney rushed to overhaul the Philadelphia Police Department after nearly two straight weeks of protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and police brutality across the country.

Councilman Curtis Jones said legislators had to “listen to the public” and “seize the moment” but cautioned the reforms were “not an indictment” of the department.

The three council bills would:

  • Ban police from using chokeholds, hogtying and other methods of restraint that would place weight on an individual’s head, face, neck, chest or back. Introduced by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.
  • Require city employees, including police officers, to be a resident of the city for at least one year prior to appointment. Introduced by Councilwoman Cherelle Parker for Council President Darrell Clarke.
  • Mandate a public hearing prior to the execution of labor contracts, including the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5’s collective bargaining agreement. A Kenney administration official would be required to attend and the public could ask questions. Introduced by Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson.

Jones introduced a resolution to amend the city’s Home Rule Charter to create a Citizens Police Oversight Commission. Voters would have to decide whether to form the commission through a ballot referendum, which is expected to appear on the ballot in the November election.

A final resolution, introduced by Johnson, would hold a hearing to examine the community’s priorities on the collective bargaining process for the Philadelphia Police Department.

The three bills and two resolutions were sent to committees for hearings, which have yet to be scheduled.

Mike Dunn, a Kenney administration spokesman, said in an email the administration was reviewing the legislation and looked forward to working with members of council “on our shared goal of transparency and accountability when it comes to allegations of police abuse and misconduct.”

“This dialogue and process won’t be easy, but for the first time in our nation’s storied history, I hope that we have real, honest conversations about race and policing,” Kenney said in an email.

Kenney introduced dozens of police reforms on Tuesday, many of which were informed by collaboration with members of council, including his support for the creation of a police oversight committee.

Mike Neilon, a spokesman for police union president John McNesby, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Police policy already bans the use of chokeholds, which technically could be rescinded by current or future commissioners. The new legislation, however, would make the ban permanent and expand it to include other restrictive-breathing techniques.

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George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed on May 25 when a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck to restrain him for nearly 9 minutes.

While the city has had mandated residency requirements for nearly all city employees since the 1950s, they don’t have to live in Philadelphia when first hired. New employees who live outside the city limits have six months to move into Philadelphia.

In 2010, the police union won the right for some members to live outside the city limits; the terms went into effect in 2012 for all officers who have five or more years of experience.

Johnson said the reforms would “go a long way toward making our city a safer city.”

“The bills that we introduced today, all of us, regarding police reform will build the trust between members of the Philadelphia Police Department and citizens here in the city of Philadelphia,” Johnson said.

The legislation continued the rapid developments taking place this week in response to the protests in Philadelphia, which began on May 30 and have continued every day since. Many of the demonstrations have involved hundreds — even thousands — of people, and most have been peaceful. A few demonstrations were followed by arson, vandalism and looting.

Following pressure from City Council, Kenney backtracked on his proposed $19 million budget increase for the police department in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, whom has led the department since February, also pledged to change the department’s use-of-force policies, including when officers can unholster and point their firearms at individuals.

The commissioner also committed to put in place a system to flag abusive police officers.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.