Police academy cadets line up for graduation in 2017

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After months of hushed negotiations, Philadelphia reached an agreement for a new three-year contract with the city’s police union. The contract promises wage increases for officers, and brings few of the long-anticipated reforms eyed by advocates after a year of historic protests against aggressive policing.

City police have been working under an extended one-year contract enacted by Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration during the height of the local COVID crisis.

The new agreement, written by a three-member arbitration panel, marks the first long-term deal since the 2020 social justice protests that put a national spotlight on the PPD over its use of force, and disciplinary policies critics say shield problem officers.

Some advocates hoped to address those issues at the bargaining table. Instead, under the new contract, which extends through 2024, officers will receive a combined $133 million in wage and benefit increases over the next three years, while Kenney walked away with less than he sought to achieve on reforms.

Officers will see a 2.75% wage bump for the first year, followed by 3.5% increases for the following two years. There’s also a one-time $1,500 bonus per officer after the deal is ratified. Pension and health benefits would remain largely unchanged, but the agreement boosts paid parental leave to four weeks and adds Juneteenth as a holiday for city workers.

During negotiations, the Kenney administration also sought to force officers to live in the city throughout their tenure, ending an earlier union agreement that allows officers to leave after 5 years on the force. That didn’t happen; the carveout also remains intact under the new deal.

The administration did tout some wins. The new contract includes an increase in penalties for certain disciplinary offenses, and defines several procedural changes meant to make disciplining officers more objective.

“We believe that the reforms … will help improve the relationship between the police and community, while ultimately helping keep all of us safe,” Kenney said Tuesday. “While the award handed down by the arbitration board did not include everything we hoped for on this front, we believe it’s a fair and positive step in the right direction.”

The contract also includes what Kenney trumpeted as a blanket ban on officers fraternizing with hate groups — a known occurrence in recent years — though it remains unclear whether that language has teeth.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, which represents roughly 6,000 uniformed officers, portrayed the deal as a victory that “100% protected” officers rights in disciplinary and grievance processes.

“All in all, we took some hits in areas, which we expected, and the city took some hits in areas, which I know they expected,” FOP president John McNesby told WHYY News and Billy Penn. “I think it’s a fair deal for both sides.”

Panel rejected some reforms as ‘too harsh’ on cops

There are three changes to disciplinary rules of Philadelphia police officers:

  • an increase in strength of penalties for several offenses
  • an increase in the time certain penalties stay on an officer’s record
  • the addition of a few new offenses to the books

However, the arbitration panel declined a number of the city’s recommendations for increased penalties.

“It is important that the code is not too harsh and so the panel declines to make all of the changes sought by the city, including eliminating the penalty range of reprimand to dismissal on a number of charges,” the panel wrote in the letter announcing the contract.

It’s unclear how one of the most notable new offenses — the ban on fraternizing with “hate groups” — would be enforced.

The amendment does not specify any specific groups by name. Rather, it broadly prohibits an officer from knowingly associating with groups advocating criminal action against a group of people, or any group that “compromises” an officer’s credibility.

A first violation could result in 10 days suspension, with a second offense netting an automatic dismissal.

Asked how officials would designate a hate group under these terms, Rich Lazer, Philly’s deputy mayor of labor, said it would be decided in discussions between the PPD and city attorneys.

Adding yet another layer to police disciplinary reviews

The deal will bring a significant change to the Police Board of Inquiry, the department’s internal panel that reviews evidence and rules on disciplinary cases.

As it stands, the panel consists of a captain, a lieutenant, and a rank-and-file officer. Under the new arrangement, the board will include at least one civilian member, and bars any officer of the same rank as the offender from the panel.

For the first time, the contract also allows non-sworn witnesses and even advocates to present evidence to the board.

These changes fall far short for some advocates who criticized redundant layers in the disciplinary process — which can include Internal Affairs investigations, a Use of Force Review Board, the Police Board of Inquiry and additional union arbitration, even after officers are hit with disciplinary charges or dismissal.

In fact, the new agreement creates yet another review board — one the Kenney administration says is designed to make it more difficult to rehire truly problematic officers.

The new contract creates a “Police Termination Arbitration Board” that would see the city and the FOP appoint an equal number of trained arbitrators to review officer dismissals — at least 40% of whom will be people who identify as women, people of color, or another “underrepresented group.”

Kenney also said the new agreement will help the city to finally transition the former Police Advisory Commission, a longstanding civilian oversight board, to the more powerful Civilian Police Oversight Commission. This independent group, outlined in legislation City Council passed last year, would be granted subpoena power to independently investigate allegations of police misconduct. The group is still in the process of hiring and appointing new commissioners.

PAC executive director Anthony Erace praised elements of the new agreement, but he said he was concerned about language stating that any commission activities that were the “subject of bargaining” could only occur with the written consent of the FOP.

“I’m concerned because, to the FOP, everything is subject to bargaining,” Erace said. “The idea that a reform-minded oversight agency would need the consent of the FOP to do its job is outside the spirit of reform.”

A second chance to rotate officers from problem units?

In one case, the panel rejected a request to require more mandatory rotations for officers on troubled police units because the requirement already existed — and the department simply never executed the changes.

Under the 2014-2017 police contract, the union agreed to regular staff rotations among both narcotics officers and internal affairs personnel. That reform partially stemmed from widespread corruption scandals that emerged within specialized units, like narcotics, dating back to the 1970s. Former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey sought rotation powers to make these units less insular and, in theory, less prone to corruption.

But that change was never implemented, the panel wrote. And rather than demanding a new rotation program for specialized units, the arbitration panel instead opted to give the city and FOP another chance to voluntarily implement the rotation system agreed to in the earlier contract.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said she would work with department heads to try to make sure the changes happen this time.

There was little public indication the FOP intends to change rotation policies. Its tweeted notice about the new agreement informs its members that all existing “transfer protections would be maintained.”

Overall, FOP President McNesby anticipated the disciplinary changes outlined in the new contract would have limited impact on his membership.

“It’s basically the same structures we had before. There’s some more civilian involvement now,” McNesby said. “Stay outta trouble. I mean, that’s basically it. If you’re getting into the disciplinary process, you’re looking to get into trouble and we don’t want that.”

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Max Marin (he/him) was Billy Penn's investigative reporter from 2018 to 2021. A graduate of Temple University, he has produced award-winning journalism on local politics, criminal justice, immigration...