Earlier this month, the Philadelphia Police finally made public the full list of complaints against officers. But in so doing, they shrouded the names of the officers with either initials or a blank field. We now know something about the complaints against police as a unit, but not about specific officers.
Shortly afterwards the District Attorney’s “Do not call” list of police officers it considered unreliable was also published. We are making progress towards full transparency. But it is still difficult to find information necessary to show a pattern of misconduct by any one officer, often a critical part of a trial. It still takes unique knowledge and skill to bring that to the light of day.
Complaints listed online
The Philadelphia police made good on a pledge from last year to release information on all complaints about police since 2013. The information is publicly accessible and can help to establish some patterns of police misconduct around the city.
Missing in these data, however, are the names of the officers against whom the complaint was filed. This makes the data much harder to use in building a case that a particular officer has a pattern of bad behavior, something which is often critical in a trial alleging police misconduct.
The decision to remove officers’ names is being scrutinized. It appears to have come directly from Mayor Kenney in consultation with the police.
Why full disclosure matters
It is well known that action against officers following a complaint of misconduct is rare. For that reason, records of disciplinary action are inadequate for demonstrating a pattern. What can be more important is the list of complaints against a particular officer. This would be independent of any attempt to whitewash the behavior by the police Internal Affairs division.
If you have been the victim of police misconduct, such information can be vital for any legal action against the city. Demonstrating that your allegation is not an isolated incident, but rather the experience of many citizens, is an important part of such cases.
That is why we will continue to fight to fully disclose all records relating to complaints against police, as the District Attorney’s list of problem police was made fully public.
Despite the efforts to keep this information hidden, it is still possible to obtain much of it for a civil suit against the police for violence, intimidation, and rights violations. It can be difficult, but with the right knowledge these records can be obtained.
If you have been the victim of police misconduct, it is important that you have an experienced and knowledgeable legal advocate on your side. Time is critical, as there are strict time limits as to when you can file a suite and take action.
You do not have to tolerate police abuse, and together we can put a stop to it. Progress is being made towards full disclosure, but it is still far from enough.