Philadelphia police shooting victims are 81% African American, report finds

  • Policing report reviewed department’s use of fatal force from 2007 to 2013
  • Of 29 cases in which officer thought suspect had gun, 25 involved black people

Philadelphia police shot black people at about twice the rate of their occurrence in the general population, according to a new federal study.

Eighty-one percent of people shot by police officers in Philadelphia from 2007 to 2013 were African American, despite black people accounting for just more than 40% of the city’s population, the study found.

The shootings were concentrated in two precincts in North Philadelphia with high rates of violent crime, according to the study, which Philadelphia police commissioner Charles H Ramsey asked the justice department to carry out in 2013 following revelations that shootings by police were rising citywide despite a drop in crime.

The report, issued by the office of community-oriented policing services (Cops), presents an unusually detailed review of the use of fatal force by police officers, tracking fine-grain details of each shooting incident, such as number of shots fired, number of suspects involved, number of police involved, races and ages of police officers and suspects, whether the suspect had a gun and much more.

Ramsey, who is known for his advocacy of better data in policing, now finds his department at the center of a report with sometimes damning conclusions.

“The department has much work to do in the months and years ahead,” the Cops study found. “Our assessment uncovered policy, training, and operational deficiencies in addition to an undercurrent of significant strife between the community and department.”

In a news conference following the release of the report, Ramsey, who is co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s task force on policing, said he would move quickly to address its concerns.

“We certainly are looking at each and every one, and coming up with a strategy for each recommendation,” he said.

To conduct the study, investigators reviewed police records, training policies and internal memos, interviewed police officers and community members, and observed police work firsthand.

Between 2007 and 2013, there were 364 officer-involved shootings in the Philadelphia police department, the report found. Forty-nine suspects discharged firearms at police in those incidents, the study said. Twenty-three percent of all suspects in the incidents were killed, it said.

The racial breakdown of officers involved in shootings was 59% white, 34% black and 7% Hispanic. Across all 364 incidents, shooting accuracy for Philadelphia officers was found to be 18%.

Among other surprising findings in the study was the revelation that 12 Philadelphia officers had been involved in three separate shooting incidents each in the years under study, 2007-2013.

A key factor in police shootings, the report tracks, is threat-perception failure, in which officers report, for example, that they believed there was a gun on the suspect when there was no gun. Of 29 cases of threat-perception failure in the years under review, the study found, 25 involved black suspects.

No one group of officers by race, however – white, black, Hispanic or Asian – was guilty of “significantly different rates” of threat-perception failures “amongst various suspect races”, the report found. The failure was equally applied.

The study made 48 key findings and 91 recommendations for reforming the department, including improved training, improved incident investigation and expanded officer accountability.

“I applaud commissioner Ramsey for stepping forward to take a more critical look at the use of force policies and practices within the Philadelphia police department,” said Cops director Ronald Davis. “Through enhanced training, improved transparency of deadly force investigations, and strengthened use of force review processes, I am confident the Philadelphia police department will see great improvement to its law enforcement policies.”


Tom McCarthy in New York

The GuardianTramp

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