City Council: Police Take Center Stage At Budget Hearings

2024 Budget Hearings

The Philadelphia Police Department’s budget hearing is typically one of the most scrutinized each year, with the department’s budget being one of the largest in the city. This year’s general fund expenditure will increase by $55.7 million, bringing the department’s fiscal year 2024 budget to over $855 million. With that, the department plans to deploy 6380 uniformed officers. 

Regarding staffing, First Deputy Commission John Stanford, who was testifying in Commissioner Outlaw’s stead, said the department was short about 850 officers. Council President Darrell Clarke expressed concern regarding the prospects of hiring new officers, considering other municipalities are aggressively recruiting in the Philadelphia area.

“Orlando is offering this crazy package,” Clarke said. “(They have) big billboards on I-76 (showing) the sun and beach (when it’s) a 32 degree day in Philadelphia.”

There are currently 63 new recruits in the Police Academy, well below the number the PPD believes it needs to fill all of its vacant positions. In order to attract new recruits, the PPD has been using social media, billboard,s and television advertisements to make prospective applicants aware of the openings.

From previous hearings, the PPD discussed the process by which an applicant becomes a member of the department. It is a multi-step process that can eliminate many candidates early one, specifically when it comes to reading comprehension. To address this, the PPD was in the process of developing a program with the Comunity College of Philadelphia.

Officer retention is another issue, causing the department to focus more on the health and wellness of current officers.

Retail Theft

Retail theft, a much-discussed topic from last week’s hearing with District Attorney Larry Krasner, was broached again by Councilmember Quetzy Lozada, who was concerned that retail theft was driving some businesses, such as pharmacies, out of vulnerable neighborhoods, creating a gap needed services for some.

Stanford said the department tallied 1532 retail theft arrests in 2022, and already had 461 in 2023.

Deputy Commissioner Frank Vanore explained how the department handles retail theft as follows:
If less than $100, the first offense is a summary offense
If less than $100, the second offense is a misdemeanor of the second degree
If the first or second offense is over $150, then it becomes a first degree misdemeanor
The third offense, regardless of value, is a felony of the third degree.
Vanore said that the District Attorney’s office automatically downgrades any theft under $500 to a summary offense.

“There are examples of people who are arrested 60 plus times, if they kept the (theft) under $500,” Vanore said. “Some of those same people returned to the same business within a few short hours and reoffended.”

Hall Monitor expects this conversation to continue during the budget hearings, particularly during budget callbacks.

Safe Injection Sites

Also, testifying before council was Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole, who was questioned by Councilmember Jim Harrity about the opioid crisis in Kensington, the neighborhood in which he lives. Harrity was particularly concerned about the prospect of safe-injection sites, to which he is opposed. He inquired as to whether Bettigole supported the possibility of implementing the sites in areas of the city.

Bettigole explained the city’s multi-pronged approach to the epidemic was multi-faceted, including an information campaign about the effects of the drugs and certain additives, such as fentanyl.

Regarding the administration’s possible support of safe-injection sites, Deputy Mayor Eva Gladstein explained the current litigation over the sites, but said the administration does support the sites, but would not act without a legal pathway.

Phillips Introduces Bill and Resolution

Councilmember Anthony Phillips introduced a bill aimed at curbing nuisance business in Philadelphia. According to the resolution, a business becomes a nuisance when the owner has been issued violations on three or more separate days during a 60 day period, or seven violations during a twelve-month period.

The owner must take action to reduce the nuisance element of the business. Phillips’ office included the following graphic to explain the proposed changes to the law:

Phillips also introduced a resolution authorizing council to hold a hearing to “investigate Philadelphia’s emergency management practices and the City’s overall preparedness when facing credible threats to our drinking water.”
The resolution cites the city’s lackluster response to the situation as a reason for the hearing, mentioning the incomplete and confusing communications from various city departments. Also of concern was the lack of warnings issued in languages other than English and the run-on bottled water many stores experienced after the first warnings.

Gilmore Richardson Recognizes Black Maternal Health Week

Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson introduced a resolution “Recognizing and supporting the health and wellness of Black mamas and birthing people by acknowledging April 11-17, 2023, as “Black Maternal Health Week” in the City of Philadelphia.”

The resolution celebrates the sixth annual national Black Maternal Health Week, which “fosters awareness, activism, and community building intended to deepen the national conversation about Black maternal health in the United States.”

Accroding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Black women in the
United States are 3 to 4 times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related
causes and are twice as likely to suffer from life-threatening pregnancy complications, known as “maternal morbidities.”

The statistical information is damning, with Black women being four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts.

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