Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw (Philadelphia Tribune photo)
By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADLEPHIA — Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw signaled she favors the right of veteran officers to live outside Philadelphia, triggering pushback from the city’s top legislator.
During an hourslong budget hearing on Wednesday, Outlaw said allowing veteran officers to live beyond the city’s borders permits them to “unplug and disconnect” and not have to worry about their safety. The commissioner lives in the city.
“There definitely can be benefits,” Outlaw said about dropping the residency requirement for cops after five years on the force.
Council President Darrell Clarke said he disagreed with Outlaw’s take on the residency requirement, saying he was “extremely surprised” about her response.
When you live in the city, Clarke said, “you’re vested. This whole unplugged thing I don’t quite understand.”
Clarke also voiced concerns over the racial makeup of the new officers coming out of the police academy, saying rookies “clearly do not reflect the demographics of the city of Philadelphia.”
The city has mandated residency requirements for nearly all city employees since the 1950s. Officers with five or more years of experience can live outside the city, which has been in effect since 2012.
The police department is in the midst of a recruiting campaign this month, which is occurring under a 2020 law that restored the one-year residency requirement prior to hiring for new city employees.
Councilwoman Cherelle Parker said the one-year residency requirement for new hires was not hindering the police department’s recruitment. She noted a waiver to the requirement is available, too.
“It makes good economic sense for the city of Philadelphia for people who are being paid by the city of Philadelphia to own a home in the city of Philadelphia,” Parker said.
Under questioning from legislators, Deputy Police Commissioner Robin Wimberly said the department was working to hire more people of color on the force, which included using social media, and advertising on Black radio stations, including Urban One, WDAS and WURD.
Wimberly added that the department has partnered with faith-based leaders to conduct information sessions.
The biggest impediments for applicants are the reading test and physical fitness test, Wimberly said. She said the department has partnered with academic institutions to help candidates prepare for the reading test, and the YMCA to help candidates with the physical fitness test.
“Our intention is to meet our potential recruits where they are and support them through the process to build a police department that is reflective of the community that we serve,” Wimberly said.
The police department has hired 50 people since July 2020: 21 whites; 18 African Americans; two Hispanics or Latinos; seven classified as “Unassigned”; and two classified as “Other,” according to Outlaw’s submitted testimony.
The police department is disproportionately made up of white officers (53%) compared to their share of the city’s population (34%). African Americans make up 36% of the department, below their share of the city’s population (44%).
The police department currently has 6,085 officers on its payroll with 244 vacancies. However, approximately 920 officers are not eligible for street duty due to injuries or other types of leaves of absence, of which 400 are not working at all, said Deputy Commissioner Christine Coulter.
The proposed police budget is $727 million, which keeps spending flat from the previous year.
Body-worn cameras and Taser Update
The police department continues to outfit all officers with body-worn cameras and Tasers.
Coulter said the department aims to provide body-worn cameras to officers in all districts by the end of this year. The department has issued 2,286 body-worn cameras spanning 13 police districts and other units.
“We are moving them out as quickly as we can,” Coulter said, noting the most significant impediment to issuing the body-worn cameras was the city’s infrastructure.
Coulter said the police department needs approximately 4,500 Tasers to give all officers the less lethal devices, which deliver an electric shock that temporarily stuns the target.
The timeline for providing Tasers to officers depends on funding availability and when the devices are received. Outfitting the remaining officers with Tasers would cost approximately $14 million.
The police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. in West Philadelphia in October 2020 drew attention to the lack of Tasers in the department. The officers who shot Wallace, who was suffering from a mental health issue, were not equipped with Tasers.
Legislators must pass a budget before July 1.
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