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Clinic Files Report with U.N. Committee on Police Shootings in Philadelphia

Community Lawyering Clinic

December 10, 2015

Despite efforts to curb the excessive use of force by Philadelphia police, there is little accountability for violence committed against civilians, according to "Fatal Force in Philadelphia," a report the Community Lawyering Clinic filed with the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Clinic Director Rachel López explained that the report was produced in conjunction with the U.S. Human Rights Network, which is coordinating efforts to update the CERD on progress made in the past year.

López said 3Ls Lauren McCulloch and Jasmine Smith worked on the report, which was filed on Nov. 20.

Citing Philadelphia Police Department statistics, the report found “an astounding correlation between the lethal use of force by police and race or ethnicity,” and noted that 90 percent of civilians shot by police between 2007 and 2014 were either African American or Latino.  Although police shootings overall have declined significantly in 2015, the report noted that the Police Department has not released data on the racial or ethnic composition of those fired on by police this year.

The report noted that the District Attorney did not press charges in any of the 65 shootings of civilians by police in 2013 and 2014, and that the Internal Affairs Division’s Use of Force Review Board had yet to schedule any reviews of police shootings in 2015.  The Police Advisory Commission charged in 1994 with providing civilian oversight has struggled to gain access to incident reports and other information, the report noted.  

A U.S. Department of Justice review determined that training the department provides on its deadly force policy is infrequent, inconsistent and confusing, the report found.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has sought to heighten police accountability through measures such as identifying officers who shoot civilians within three days of the incident, but the report noted that Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a bill on Nov. 19 that prohibits this. The state labor board is also scheduled to hear an appeal by the police union, which is seeking to block Ramsey’s initiatives.

"While Philadelphia has recently made some strides to revamp its review of police shootings, both statistics and individual accounts of police shootings demonstrate that police impunity remains a significant issue," the report concluded.