DOJ Report Finds That Philadelphia Police Officers Routinely Use Unnecessary Force Against Civilians

The Philadelphia Police Department is under fire after the Department of Justice released a report that found that the city’s police officers routinely shoot civilians and lack adequate review procedures for police-involved shootings. 

The investigation, which was released on Monday, concludes that police shot 394 civilians—59 of which were fatal—between 2007 and 2013, with officers justifying the shootings and their knee-jerk use of force by saying that they feared for their lives. 

In 81 percent of the shootings, the victims were Black, compared to 9 percent who were Hispanic and 8 percent who were White. The victims were unarmed in 15 percent of all cases. In 50 percent of the cases in which the victim was unarmed, officers had misidentified a threat, such as a suspect holding a cell phone (thinking that it was a gun) or tugging at his or her pants (thinking that the suspect was reaching for a weapon). 

Additionally, investigators found that the department lacked proper protocol when it came to examining shootings and accountability.

Produced by the DOJ’s office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), the report comes less than a month after the department released a report uncovering discriminatory practices within the Ferguson Police Department. However, unlike the Ferguson probe, this investigation was solicited by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles C. Ramsey after a 2013 exposé revealed that there had been an increase in police shootings despite a drop in crime levels.

The report offers guidelines to eliminate injustices, such as advising that an independent agency conduct officer-related investigations and that the police department promote transparency by holding press conferences immediately after any shooting. 

“What we’re doing here today is a start,” Ramsey said at a press conference earlier today. “You can’t fix something until you recognize and acknowledge that it exists.”