Delayed Oversight

With the resignation of three of its commissioners this week, the Citizens Police Oversight Commission has made news. But with a Mayoral election where promises of increased police hiring are taking center stage, it needs to make progress.

When the Citizens Police Oversight Commission was created via a City Charter Change in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, folks hoped that it represented a change in terms of police accountability.

But over the last three weeks, it’s spent more time in the news for what it hasn’t been able to accomplish rather than for what it has. For example, three members of the nine-member body resigned in protest last week, including the body’s vice chair, Afroza Hossain.

In a resignation letter that was, to put it mildly, scathing, Hossain accused fellow commissioners Elder Melanie DeBouse, Rosaura Thomas, Hassan Bennet, and co-chair Jahlee Hatchet of…

Well, why don’t I let Hossein say it herself? (Thanks Billy Penn!)

“The four of them are on this commission for personal gain and power, and they will do whatever necessary to get their way,” Hossein said in the letter. “There is no amount of training or guidance that can help this, thus, either they have to be ousted and the commission revised, or the entire commission has to be dissolved.”

Apparently, what made Hossein, a DEI expert for ASHTAM Consulting Group, former Court of Common Pleas Judge, and chief defender for the Defender Association of Philadelphia Benjamin Lerner, and Maryelis Santiago, user experience director for the Philly311 mobile app, leave the commission was the process of hiring the commission’s executive director.

Anthony Erace, the current interim ED, applied for the job and, according to Hossein, was recommended for it by Councilman Curtis Jones, the chair of Council’s Public Safety Committee. But the letter from Jones, who spearheaded the creation of the panel, never surfaced, something Hossein says was connected to DeBouse’s hatred of him.

“The blatant conspiracy and bias against Anthony Erace was and has been ridiculous and absurd from the beginning,” Hossein said. “When Councilmember Jones wrote a recommendation letter for Anthony Erace and sent it to [Hatchett] in the Fall of 2022, it did not surface and become available to the rest of the commission until Anthony Glass re-send the letter in the Spring of 2023. Why? Why did Jahlee keep this letter to himself for months while helming the ED search committee…? It has come to such a place now that Anthony Erace has ample evidence and ground (s) to sue the commission for conspiracy and bias should he want to; an endeavor I’d support him in should he go forward with it.”

Add to this the fact that a ballot question that would allow the Citizens Police Oversight Commission to skip over civil service rules to hire the staff it needs to do its job was defeated in the May 16 primary — something that almost never happens, by the way — and you have a recipe for dysfunction.

The process of finding three new commissioners is going to take some time because the committee tasked with selecting the original nine members ceased operations after the panel was selected.

But that said, everyone needs to keep an eye on how this all shakes out, especially since we’re going to have a general election that appears to be laser focused on crime and policing.

For much of the 20th Century, the Philadelphia Police Department was under the oversight of the federal Department of Justice due to the kinds of things that the Floyd killing showcased, the biggest one being a definite mistrust between citizens and the police and the sometimes fatal consequences that can ensue.

A Police Advisory Board was put together to try and bring some accountability, but it was a paper tiger to put it mildly. With no enforcement power, no subpoena power, and most importantly, no investigative power due to its extremely small $500,000 budget, it was set up to fail, which it did for the most part.

The charter change took it out of the jurisdiction of the Mayor’s office, gave control of it to City Council, and, most importantly, gave it $3 million to work with. While it has employees now, they’re probably buckling over all of the conflict.

I guess, to paraphrase Biggie Smalls, with more money (and more power) came more problems.

And Philadelphia really needs for this oversight board to work. If the Next Mayor, whomever it is, is going to be hiring more police officers, and, most importantly, giving them more power in the name of thwarting the city’s violence problems, citizens with issues as a result are going to need to have someone to come to. Someone who will help solve the problem.

Someone that will make sure that everyone knows that the city with the nation’s highest poverty rate can’t afford to keep paying out millions in police brutality lawsuit settlements every year.

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Councilmember Curtis Jones described the resignations and the need to find new people as the “growing pains” connected to doing something that’s obviously not easy.

Hopefully, it won’t be Philadelphians that wind up injured during this process.

Our reporters sit through hours of city council meetings, dig through piles of documents, and ask tough questions other media overlook. Because we’re committed to addressing Philadelphia’s poverty crisis — and challenging those who sustain it. If you think this work is important too, please support our journalism.

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