Philadelphia controller finds failed planning, leadership in city's Floyd protest response

Wednesday, January 27, 2021
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The City Controller said its investigation into Philadelphia's response to the George Floyd protests found failure of planning and lack of leadership.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A new report released by the city of Philadelphia Controller's Office on Wednesday placed blame on the city leaders for their lack of coordination in addressing civil unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd.

"The city did not plan, did not plan in advance of the protests and the unrest and there was a blueprint available to do just that," said Rebecca Rhynhart.

The report's findings were based on an independent investigation that called for the review of some 1,700 documents and interviews with some city officials.

It's boiled down to five points which address leadership, use of resources, the improper use of tear gas, and contrasting responses to protests: Those against police brutality and those that gathered to support the police.

READ: Officer of Controller's Independent Investigation Into the City of Philadelphia's Response to Civil Unrest

Controller Rhynhart said the report details numerous gaps in leadership structure, like - at the time - the absence of an inspector of homeland security.

Former Deputy Police Commissioner and Inspector of Homeland Security Joe Sullivan said he does believe had the role been filled, it may have made a difference.

"That's the person that normally sounds the alarm, so to speak, and says 'hey we need to pay attention to this and start talking and looking at our plans,'" Sullivan said.

RELATED: Philadelphia mayor, police commissioner apologize after tear gas used on protesters on I-676

Rhynhart said, however, the buck ultimately stops with the mayor.

"The mayor is at the helm. So, we need to look at the mayor as well and say there was a failure of leadership," she said.

In a statement, city spokesperson Mike Dunn noted the controller's report mirrored one done by the city last month.

He says the prior report offered solutions, but the controller "appears fixated on platitudes and attempts to cast blame for mistakes that have been acknowledged on multiple occasions."

Dunn went on to say, "the fact that the controller chose to make such inaccurate claim about dedicated public servants is repugnant, and its lack of accuracy certainly calls into question the veracity of her other claims."

RELATED: Fires set, stores damaged as peaceful protests turn violent in Philadelphia

Among the report's recommendations is an independent director of the Office of Emergency Management, a role currently filled by Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel.

It also called for stricter rules on the use of tear gas already in line with the city banning its use during demonstrations.

"The tear gas was used indiscriminately on innocent bystanders and protesters," Rhynhart said.

The report claimed Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw did request to use the gas at one point during the unrest, though it was denied.

The report said she didn't recall making the request, but also didn't deny it.

The mayor reportedly told the commissioner the decision whether or not to use it rested with her.

Action News reached out to the police commissioner who was unavailable for comment.

Full Statement from the City of Philadelphia:

We look forward to fully reviewing the Controller's Report, but after initial review it appears to largely mirror the report released last month by independent consultants who conducted a comprehensive examination of the City's response to the protests on behalf of the Administration. The key difference between the two is that while our consultants focused on solutions, the Controller, in her duplicative effort, appears fixated on platitudes and attempts to cast blame for mistakes that have been acknowledged on multiple occasions.Specifically, we reject her unsubstantiated claims that the Mayor and members of his Administration did not exercise "leadership". The Mayor, Managing Director, Police Commissioner, Fire Commissioner, City Solicitor, Chief of Staff and other top officials were quite literally at the table, working out of the Emergency Operations Center during the entire difficult period.Particularly offensive is her baseless claim that Fire Commissioner Thiel was hands-off during this period. Commissioner Thiel is one of the most dedicated public servants this City has ever been blessed with, and has consistently worked for days on end to address the multiple emergencies the City has been faced with over the last year, specifically during the civil unrest for which the Controller now maligns him and his team. The fact that the Controller chose to make such an inaccurate claim about dedicated public servants is repugnant, and its lack of accuracy certainly calls into question the veracity of her other claims.The Mayor and Police Commissioner have previously owned up to mistakes made, and committed to reforms that are ongoing. (Please see the attached chart spelling out the status of those reforms to date). Admitting mistakes, committing to fixes, following through: that is far greater leadership than Monday morning quarterbacking by an official more focused on her own resume than in actually making Philadelphia a better place. As the Mayor said last month, "Black and Brown residents of Philadelphia have suffered too long. With this report, the path ahead is clear, and I am committed to following it no matter how difficult - because their pain, evidenced in stark relief this past summer, must end."