A Philly cop killed a 12-year-old. What happened to police reform in Pa.? | Monday Morning Coffee

Between 2010 and 2020, Philadelphia paid out $136M to settle police misconduct claims, mostly for use of force incidents, according to the Washington Post

March 14, 2022 7:27 am

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Whatever happened to police reform?

I found myself asking that question on Sunday afternoon as I made my way through an exhaustive Washington Post report about the massive, and often unseen, public cost of police misconduct in departments across the country.

Taxpayers nationwide have footed the $1.5 billion cost to settle claims involving officers who repeatedly have been accused of misconduct, the newspaper reported.

In Philadelphia, city taxpayers paid out $136 million to settle such claims between 2010 and 2020, with more than half of that total (59 percent) involving officers who had been named in multiple claims, according to the Post’s analysis of nearly 40,000 payments across 25 departments.

(Source: The Washington Post screen capture)

The bulk of those payments, nearly $72 million, involved allegations related to the use of excessive force, according to the Post’s analysis. The majority of the balance, a little more than $51 million, came from allegations of false arrest.

The publication of the Post’s story coincidentally came at the end of a week in which Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced the suspensionwith an eye toward their eventual firing, of an unnamed city police officer who shot and killed a 12-year-old, WHYY-FM reported.

“This incident does not reflect who we are as the Philadelphia Police Department. It is not aligned with our values of honesty, honor, integrity and service,” Outlaw said, according to WHYY-FM.

There’s little doubt that Outlaw made the right move. She said the unnamed officer violated the department’s use of force policy when they fired at the fleeing youth. The child was was shot in the back and declared dead a short time laterWHYY-FM reported.

The debate over how, and under what circumstances, police should be allowed to use deadly force has been one of the animating questions in our national dialogue over police reform.

And once again, I found myself asking: Whatever happened to that debate in Pennsylvania?

Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, speaks at a press conference for a bill to automatically expunge the records of acquitted individuals. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Black lawmakers in Pennsylvania renewed their calls for reform last June when a Minneapolis jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of killing George Floyd in May 2020, sparking protests nationwide, even as a spotlight was shone on the deaths of other Black people at the hands of police in that consequential year.

“While we collectively revel in this moment that justice was served for Mr. Floyd, we must recognize that this is but a small victory in the grand scope of protecting communities of color from police violence and meaningfully reforming our system,” Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Philadelphia, said at a news conference calling for legislative authorization of a bill banning police chokeholds, including the kind that Chauvin used to kill Floyd, the Capital-Star previously reported.

Nearly a year later, that bill is still marooned in the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Rob Kauffman, of Franklin County, floated a proposal last spring creating a “police practices sentinel team,” that would be responsible for “collecting data and background regarding any critical events involving police officer use of force – and for recommending changes in current practices.”

Republicans pointed to the bill as a demonstration of their commitment to continuing the dialogue on police reform, with a House Republican spokesman telling WHYY-FM that it was “a good example of the fact that even within the House Republican caucus … this conversation has not stopped.”

“We’re continuing to engage lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in this and continue the discussion on the committee level,” House GOP spokesperson Jason Gottesman told the station.

(Pa. House – screen capture)

A year later, however, that talk remains just that: Talk. An inspection of Kauffman’s legislative website reveals that the south-central Pennsylvania lawmaker’s proposal has yet to receive a bill number – a sign that it has not been formally introduced.

Reached for comment on Sunday, Gottesman said he didn’t know why the proposal had fallen off the House leader’s radar.

Another reform measure, co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Brian Sims, of Philadelphia, and Summer Lee, of Allegheny County, calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor in police use-of-force cases, also is parked in Kauffman’s committee.

In 2019, Lee, who is now running for Congress, sought legislative authorization of a bill restricting when police officers can use deadly force. It was tied to the death of Antwon Rose, a Black Pittsburgh teen who was shot and killed in a confrontation with law enforcement.

“The goal of every police interaction should be to minimize loss of life,” Lee told the Capital-Star at the time.

Members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus took over the floor of the state House in June 2020 to demand action on police reform bills. (Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia/Twitter)

The shift in momentum on reform, nearly two years after Floyd’s death and the season of protest that followed it, is a marked one.

Black lawmakers won some victories in 2020, with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signing police hiring and training reforms into law, the Capital-Star previously reported.

In July 2021, advocates hailed the launch of a new statewide database that will let Pennsylvania police agencies check for “red flags” among prospective hires. It was a result of the reforms Wolf had signed into law the previous year.

“We had to start somewhere,” Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, said last year during an event celebrating the database’s launch. But the wins were still well shy of the multi-pronged reform agenda that Black lawmakers had sought to achieve.

The underlying issues, as the Washington Post’s story (and this one from Esquire about the cop-friendly company that makes police conduct guidebooks) make clear, have not gone away.

Unfortunately, two years is a lifetime in politics — doubly so in our pandemic age.

And that’s especially true as other issues — from the debate over voting rights and the ongoing fallout from the Jan. 6 insurrection to inflation and, now, the Ukraine War — have devoured the news cycle, and, with it, Americans’ already taxed attention spans.

Indeed, worries over the economy topped the list of concerns for Pennsylvanians who participated in this month’s Franklin & Marshall College poll, with the pandemic finishing second.

The Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg (Capital-Star file)

Ultimately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could speak the loudest on issues of police reform.

In December, the state’s highest court heard oral arguments in a case brought by Philadelphia’s progressive district attorney, Larry Krasner, challenging the state’s deadly force law, the Associated Press reported.

The case is tied to homicide charges against a former Philadelphia police officer who is accused of third-degree murder in the shooting death of a man named David Jones, after a June 2017 confrontation over Jones riding a dirt bike on a city street, the Associated Press reported.

Krasner’s office has argued that stricter federal standards should trump state law, the AP reported.

Justices on the court, which has a progressive majority, “appeared conflicted about whether and when they might change state law on police use of deadly force during arrests,” the AP’s Mark Scolforo reported.

On Sunday, a court spokesperson and a spokesperson for Krasner separately confirmed that the high court has yet to issue a ruling in the case.

In the meantime, the number of people who have lost their lives to law enforcement continues to rise nationwide. And Pennsylvania lawmakers, who could be part of the solution, continue to sit on the sidelines.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
In this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket, Cassie Miller takes a look at state park entrance fees across the nation — and where Pa. stacks up.

Pennsylvania passed a tax break for data centers. Now crypto-miners are taking advantageStephen Caruso reports.

In Pittsburgh, Frick Park neighbors are weighing in on a proposed redesign of the Fern Hollow Bridge, which collapsed earlier this year, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

As a solution to worker shortages, the Biden administration is seeking to add more immigrant workers to the U.S. labor force, our sibling site, the Tennessee Lookout reports.

Philadelphia City Council has moved to to preserve affordable housing in the University City neighborhood, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

Some $297,000 in state funding will help underwrite training for apprentices in the electrical industry, I report.

On our Commentary Page this morning: Oil Price shocks aren’t new. Viewed historically, they are an integral part of oil market dynamics, not anomalies, a University of Washington scholar writes. And this week is Sunshine Week. Here’s how you can shine the light on governmentLiz Wagenseller, of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, writes.

DDAP Secretary Jen Smith (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

The head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs continues to blame shift for failing to clarify the rules around addiction treatment and medical marijuana, Spotlight PA reports (via the Inquirer).

Nurses at ACMH in western Pennsylvania walked off the job on Sunday, the Tribune-Review reports.

PennLive highlights the ‘novel’ solutions some school districts are taking to highlight staffing shortages.

The York Daily Record highlights the ways you can help Ukraine

Allentown’s new police chief is looking to hire more officers, the Morning Call reports.

State Sen. John Yudichak, I-Luzerne, is sitting on a shedload of campaign cash. But his political future is far from guaranteed, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

Paid family and medical leave is about to become law in DelawareWHYY-FM reports. Your move, Pa.

A Pennsylvania pipeline builder failed to safeguard residents, a judge has ruled. The Associated Press has the story (via WITF-FM).

PoliticsPA runs down this week’s winners and losers in state politics.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
11 a.m., Philadelphia: Senate Democratic Policy Committee
1 p.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Senate Law & Justice Committee
12 p.m.: Columnist Salena Zito addresses this month’s Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon at the Harrisburg Hilton.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
5:30 p.m.: Reception for state House candidate Justin Fleming. Admission runs $250 to $1,000.

Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s a classic from Philadelphia’s own Dead Milkmen to get the week rolling. It’s ‘Punk Rock Girl.’ And its admonition that if you’re a record store, and you don’t have Mojo Nixon, your store needs some some fixing, is as true as it ever was.

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
The day after they beat one Pennsylvania team (the Flyers), the Carolina Hurricanes lost to the other one: The Pittsburgh Penguins downed the ‘Canes 4-2 on Sunday.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.