Will Police Reforms Work in Philly?

A new report suggests "mixed results" elsewhere.

Philadelphia Police Dept. HQ - Roundhouse

Philadelphia Police Department headquarters (aka The Roundhouse) photo by Beyond My Ken, used under a Creative Commons license

Some discouraging news for advocates of police reform in Philadelphia: A new Washington Post/Frontline investigation has revealed “mixed results” in other cities where the Justice Department intervened to curb the excessive use of force by police departments.

“Measured by incidents of use of force, one of Justice’s primary metrics, the outcomes are mixed,” the Post reported Friday. “In five of the 10 police departments for which sufficient data was provided, use of force by officers increased during and after the agreements. In five others, it stayed the same or declined.”

The Philadelphia Police Department is currently undergoing a Justice Department-led reform effort of its own — initiated by Commissioner Charles Ramsey after Philly.com reported in 2013 that police-involved shootings here were on the rise even as crime in the city went down.

Kelvyn Anderson, executive director of the Philly’s permanent Police Advisory Commission and a member of the temporary Police Community Oversight Board that is overseeing the reform effort here, said that shooting numbers are important, but won’t be the only measure of reform’s success in this city.

For example, he said, there are indications that the Police Department will be more forthcoming about incidents involving force, in the future. “We’re just now getting to a point where we ‘re going to be more honest about these incidents,” he said. “That has value in and of itself.”

And, Anderson said, the number of police-involved shootings does rely on factors out of police control. “If people carry less weapons, there will probably be less police shootings,” he said.

Anderson suggested that patience will be needed by reformers. “All of those things,” he said, “will take more than a year or two to produce changes that the public can see.”

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.