Updated 7:40 p.m.
District Attorney Larry Krasner broke with political protocol to criticize Mayor Jim Kenney, an ally, over the administration’s efforts to restrict public access to complaints lodged against Philadelphia police officers.
Krasner’s statement was issued in response to a WHYY/Billy Penn report revealing those efforts.
“Victims of police misconduct must be allowed access to the information needed to hold abusive officers accountable,” he said.
Published Friday morning, the story detailed quiet changes made to the online database of civilian complaints against police. Kenney had ordered the release of the records in 2017 as part of an effort to improve public trust in the department. The move came shortly after voters elected Krasner on a reformist platform — which included a vow to hold city police accountable.
WHYY and Billy Penn found that significant portions of those records have begun to disappear from public sight.
“The district attorney is obviously disturbed by the revelations in [the] reporting,” spokesperson Jane Roh said in a phone interview. “He is going to be reaching out to the mayor and police commissioner to sit down and figure out the solution.”
A spokesperson for Kenney did not immediately a request for comment.
As revealed in Friday’s report, Philadelphia police have begun removing identifying information about officers as well as graphic details of the allegations made against them from the public complaint database. Once-thorough complaint descriptions — many of them containing graphic allegations of physical abuse or criminal activity — were reduced to a single sentence summary, limiting their usability by investigators, lawyers and civilians.
Kenney’s office defended the erasures. He said the police department does not have sufficient staff to handle the high volume of complaints that need to be entered into the database. As a result, an administration spokesperson said, the complaints would no longer be reproduced in full.
Krasner argued the high volume is “no excuse for failing to fully disclose complaints of police misconduct,” but quite the contrary.
“That ‘high volume’ is a reason for more transparency, not an excuse to avoid it,” the prosecutor said.
The defense-attorney-turned-prosecutor has faced extensive criticism for his office’s handling and lack of sensitivity toward crime victims and their families. On Friday, he argued for more transparency on behalf of aggrieved civilians.
Police leadership did deploy some of the department’s limited personnel to retroactively summarize thousands of lengthy allegations that were already in the public database. A department spokesperson said this was an effort to make older entries uniform with the new additions.
“It is most assuredly not an attempt to scrub information,” PPD Capt. Sekou Kinebrew told reporters.
Disciplinary outcomes for each complaint — most of which are dismissed without consequence by the police department’s internal investigators — remain available in the database.