Police Advisory Commission calls for review of arbitration process in cases of dismissed cops

AFTER A REVIEW of more than two dozen cases of fired Philadelphia Police officers that showed the majority of them were reinstated, the Police Advisory Commission yesterday called on the city to examine the police arbitration process.

In its inquiry into 26 cases of police officers fired between 2008 and last year for offenses ranging from domestic incidents and retail theft to excessive force and on-duty intoxication, the commission found that 19 of the cops were reinstated by arbitrators, PAC executive director Kelvyn Anderson said during a news conference last night at which the commission released its 2012-13 annual report and announced its recommendation.

“Commissioner [Charles] Ramsey, since he’s been here in 2008, has fired on average probably 20 to 23 people every year,” Anderson said. “A good number of those folks are brought back to the department through the arbitration process, and what we’ve tried to find out is why that occurs and what remedies there would be to that process.”

Anderson said the commission extensively reviewed the controversial case of reinstated Lt. Jonathan Josey, who was fired after he was captured on video striking a woman during a Puerto Rican Day Parade after-party in North Philadelphia in September 2012.

They chose that case, Anderson said, “primarily because it involved that elephant in the room for all of us now, which is video.”

The commission said it plans to explore Pennsylvania’s police-officer-certification system as a potential tool to improve the disciplinary process for officers across the state.

Anderson blamed the issues with the arbitration process partially on a lack of consistency in the way the Police Department has meted out discipline.

“They’ll hand out one type of discipline to one officer, something else to another officer in a similar situation. When an arbitrator sees that type of discrepancy, it’s likely that they’re going to overturn that piece of discipline.”

He added that when officers are fired without a full investigation into the action in question – as he said the commission believes happened in Josey’s case – it paves the way for an arbitrator to reinstate the officer.

“In any case . . . No. 1, you need to be fair to the officers involved because the disciplinary process depends upon fairness on all ends of the spectrum, to citizens certainly, and absolutely to officers,” Anderson said. “Clearly, if we’re going to take the step of taking an officer’s job away, we need to do as thorough an investigation as possible . . . so the outcome is appropriate.”

The commission also touched on a number of other issues in its annual report, including:

* Its ongoing attempts to obtain full reports on police-involved shootings, which Anderson said the Police Department has declined to provide citing an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice into the department’s police discharges.

* A proactive review of court-ordered custody exchanges of children that occur at police districts. “If we take the right steps, we can prevent tragedy from occurring,” Anderson said of the review.

* Data-driven oversight: Anderson said the commission is working to combine data released by the Police Department, including crime statistics, with complaints of officer misconduct to analyze how the data sets relate.

The commission also included in its annual report a comparison of its budget to those of police-oversight agencies in other cities, including Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York – all of which have budgets well above $1 million annually. Philadelphia’s current PAC budget is $282,387.

Commissioners said they support a bill introduced by Councilman Curtis Jones that would establish a permanent commission with an initial budget of $1 million, allowing more staffers and investigators.