PHILADELPHIA – An independent review of Philadelphia's police response to days of widespread protests after the May killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police found failures in planning that led to short staffing, emotional responses from officers and sometimes excessive uses of force.
The 110-page report released Wednesday by the research group CNA and the law firm Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP was commissioned by Mayor Jim Kenney as an independent review of police operations during the protests. The city faced criticism for its police response including several interactions between officers and protesters that were recorded by witnesses and posted on social media.
A video of Philadelphia SWAT officers firing tear gas and other less-lethal munitions at protesters who had made their way onto Interstate 676 and were trapped by advancing SWAT officers became part of the national conversation over police responses to protesters.
In all, three officers including one transit officer are facing criminal charges for their actions during the protests, which were caught on camera. Those actions include baton strikes to the head and pepper spraying under the mask of a protester who was kneeling on the ground.
The report outlined 77 recommendations to better prepare and respond to protests, many of which the authors said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw had already begun implementing or studying over the summer.
“I fully accept the criticisms in the report of how our administration conducted itself this past summer,” Kenney wrote in an emailed statement, adding that he hoped the recommendations would lead to long-lasting reform in how the city and department prepare for and respond to protests.
Failures to properly prepare for the size of anticipated protests — despite reliable information that thousands of people would likely converge on City Hall — trickled down to other failures including issues with the approval of less-lethal weapons and tactics, the report said. Several officers had emotional responses to verbal taunts or insults from protesters, targeting enforcement of the citywide curfew to some individuals and escalating situations with protesters. Other officers misused tear gas and pepper spray projectiles among other issues, the report said.
The authors noted from interviews that tear gas was deployed three time during the protests, but commanders notified Outlaw beforehand in only one of those uses, contrary to department policy.
The authors acknowledged that Outlaw had just taken over command of the department in February and that the coronavirus has stretched resources and made planning more difficult.
The report also said the department lacked proper equipment and manpower.
The police department noted in some instances the report's recommendations to purchase more riot shields, gas masks, Tasers and more body worn cameras would require significant funding increases from the city, though some money has already been approved. A handful of key vacancies noted in the report have been filled, department officials said.