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November 10, 2016

Philly D.A. unveils plan for more transparency in officer-involved shooting cases

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s revised guidelines for the handling of police-involved shooting cases that allows for more public scrutiny.

District Attorney Seth Williams said Thursday the new protocol will not only ensure public transparency and accountability but also guide investigators when an officer discharges a weapon.

“Using a weapon is one of the hardest things that a police officer has to do, but too often after a shooting, the public is left with more questions than answers, leading to false accusations and distrust,” Williams said. “This new protocol establishes a clear, transparent, and accountable process of review for every police involved shooting."

The new policy will also apply to deaths caused by any use of force by law enforcement and correctional officers.

Whether charges or filed against the officer or not, the public will be informed about the results in a timely manner, Williams said.

Under the new guidelines, an assistant district attorney will immediately be sent to the scene of an incident to monitor the investigation and independently review evidence. Williams also reserves the right to visit the victim's family to explain the process and privately inform them of the results before releasing the findings to the public.

When the district attorney files criminal charges, the information will be made available to the public as the law mandates.

If charges are not filed, however, the district attorney's office will release a report outlining why the decision was made. That report will be made available within 60 days after the investigation is completed.

“These new procedures strike an important balance between protecting our community, protecting police, and protecting the public," Williams said. “By having an open, transparent and accountable process of review whenever an officer uses their weapon, the people of Philadelphia can be assured that we remain accountable to the people we serve.”

The new protocol is being put in place as a piece of legislation that would protect the identity of officers who fire their weapons on duty advances in the state legislature.

House Bill 1538 was crafted in 2015 shortly after then-Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey implemented a policy to release officers' names within 72 hours of a shooting. The bill passed state House last month.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 President John McNesby vehemently opposed the city's policy, calling it "absolutely ridiculous" while backing the bill.

Meanwhile, Williams praised the city's officers during today's announcement, but warned that the new protocol was necessary.

“Philadelphia has been fortunate because we have not seen the problems that other communities have,” Williams said. “I believe that is due to the high caliber and training of our officers and the work that my office has done to fully and fairly review any and all officer involved shootings. But doing everything right if it’s closed behind doors, isn’t enough."