By Christopher “Flood the Drummer®” Norris
3.13.17: National – (Politics): The Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, seated in City Council chambers next to a slate of recognizable activists, gave nods of approval and agreement when Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym on Monday afternoon during a public hearing on body-worn cameras echoed concerns expressed by Rev. Tyler, myself and others regarding the need for a collaborative relationship between the community and the police department to draft a usage policy on the new and still evolving technology.
Councilwoman Gym – after her colleagues on the Public Safety Committee probed Police Commissioner Richard Ross about the cost of footage storage, the public’s access to video files and the pilot program launched nearly three years ago in the 22nd Police District, which resulted in a drop in complaints – said she’s “most interested in” ensuring that the citywide rollout of the body-worn cameras, which could carry a price tag of roughly $2 million a year, become an opportunity to bridge the gap between police and community by creating a space for communication beyond tragedies and public hearings.
Commissioner Ross, who was unable to recall any commentary from constituents in the 22nd Police District post-pilot program, said he preferred to solicit feedback via survey but would be open to, as the Councilwoman phrased it, an advisory council. The police commissioner, as he’s done before, offered up the countless community meetings he’s attended as a way of measuring input of public voice.
But the Councilwoman, herself an activist prior to taking office in 2016, pushed back on Commissioner Ross, asserting that there’s a difference between “general meetings” and a process to engage the public on a very specific issue.
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The Department of Justice in their recommendations to the police department here called for stakeholders to be bought into a public process where the policy governing the technology can begin to form. However, such an occurrence hasn’t happened, and the police commissioner confirmed as much on Monday when he acknowledged that the policy currently in place came to life via an internal working group informed by public commentary.
Commissioner Ross didn’t stay for the entire hearing, and when he exited Room 400 he was met by a few of the activists who were once seated together inside City Council chambers.
Rev. Tyler, the pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E and a radio personality, did the majority of the talking to the Commissioner, who told lawmakers on Monday that Philadelphians in their 20s and 30s were the hardest to reach.
In the hallway, the reverend, who dabbles in filmmaking, pointed to Mr. Asa Khalif of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania, whose cousin, Mr. Brandon Tate-Brown, was killed by a Philadelphia police officer in late 2014, and said guys like him, a millennial, should be working with the department on the body camera rollout.
Repeating to the reverend what he told the Councilwoman, Commissioner Ross said he’s not opposed to anyone in particular, but if an advisory council were to form, it would have to be representative, in terms of demographics, of the city of Philadelphia, and not just populated with familiar faces and the loudest voices.
But regarding the idea itself, a true collaboration on a project that will enhance trust, the police commissioner said he’s “open to the possibility.”
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