State police could soon look into Philadelphia cop shootings

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Justice Department officials are praising the Philadelphia Police Department for its progress in implementing reforms after a federal probe on deadly force.

The Pennsylvania State Police could soon be conducting independent investigations of officer-involved shootings for the Philadelphia Police Department, officials announced Tuesday.

City Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said the two agencies began talking about three months ago and are working on a memorandum of understanding. Under an agreement, the state police would be the lead investigative agency in officer-involved shootings resulting in injury or death, as well as in-custody deaths of suspects. Details of the plan are still being finalized.

The Justice Department said it doesn't track how many police departments use outside agencies to investigate police shootings.

News of the proposed agreement came amid a six-month status update detailing the Philadelphia Police Department's progress in implementing reforms after a critical federal probe on deadly force. Ronald Davis, director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said the department has made "amazing" progress in a short amount of time.

Among the recommendations was the implementation of a single, specially trained investigative unit to handle officer-involved shootings.

The report, issued in May, found the department's use of deadly force was motivated by fear and overwhelmingly affected black citizens. The Justice Department said the police department has completed or is making progress on 90 percent of the 91 recommendations listed. Ramsey said some of the remaining action items will be addressed when the agreement with state police is reached.

Ramsey ordered the probe in 2013 after an increase in officer-involved shootings that year. Among the findings in the report were that of the nearly 400 officer-involved shootings from 2007 to 2013, 81 percent of the suspects involved were black, and 59 percent of the officers involved were white.

Philadelphia as a whole is 43 percent black and 41 percent white. The police department is 34 percent black and 56 percent white.

The shootings included 96 deaths. In the report, the Justice Department said the shootings contributed to "significant strife and distrust" between the department and the community. The probe's recommendations included intensive training in use of force and community-oriented policing.

Philadelphia's probe began before the national conversation and unrest around community policing disparities sparked by deaths of unarmed black males in Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland; New York City; Charleston, South Carolina; and Chicago.

Ramsey, who is retiring next month after Mayor Michael Nutter leaves office, said he will encourage other jurisdictions to be proactive about seeking federal help.

"As far as police chiefs go, the goal has to be to stay out of the crosshairs of (the Justice Department) to begin with," said Ramsey, who added that he sought help after reading a similar report issued about another department. "It may not be your issue today, but it could be tomorrow."
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