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Philadelphia needs effective public safety. If you want to see good cops on our streets, find out who represents you on the City Council and reach out to let them know you want the city to do better at recruiting and retaining police officers through training that improves culture and changes the way they respond to mental health crises, an easier application process, bonuses, better marketing, and civilian aid.

Here you can find the schedule for the Philadelphia City Council meetings as well as instructions on how to sign up to speak. You can review the agendas on the calendar here and watch meetings live here.

The official website for the Office of the Mayor provides basic information and a contact number, but you can also reach out using this form.

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Cheat Sheet

How other cities are successfully reforming police

Philly is not alone in its policing problem. Here’s how other cities across the US are pioneering improved department policies and recruitment strategies that ensure well staffed, effective police:

  • Chatanooga, TN recruits all year long and offers monthly preliminary exams to speed up the hiring process.
  • Massachusetts-based ROCA uses CBT in police training so officers learn to approach the public with more empathy
  • Police unions in San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA put together a reform agenda to root out bad actors from their police force. 
  • Camden NJ’s pivot to community policing has changed the relationship between cops and their constituents, while crime rates drastically fell.
  • Seattle WA, Washington D.C., and many cities in Florida are offering bonuses to entice applicants to their police departments. This is an option Philly already has access to, as it falls under “hero pay” in the state budget.
  • Baltimore, MD launched an initiative to hire civilians to investigate low-level crimes and conduct safe, low-risk tasks like research, reviewing cold cases, and conducting witness interviews.
  • For decades, Eugene OR has maintained a trained mental health crisis team instead of sending patrol officers to people in emotional and mental distress.

How to Recruit More (Good) Cops

An Inquirer story this week unpacked the ever-worsening Philly police officer shortage. Here, what Philly could learn from other cities on recruiting more qualified people to the job.

How to Recruit More (Good) Cops

An Inquirer story this week unpacked the ever-worsening Philly police officer shortage. Here, what Philly could learn from other cities on recruiting more qualified people to the job.

A terrific Inquirer investigation this week by Anna Orso and Ryan W. Briggs unpacked the worsening staff shortage in the Philadelphia Police Department, which is down 1,300 officers, with another 800 expected to retire over the next four years. As they pointed out, this shortage comes at a time when gun violence is at an all-time high:

The growing officer shortage within one of the nation’s largest police forces is colliding with the highest rates of gun violence Philadelphia has seen in generations. Last year, there were 562 homicides, the most in recorded history — and so far this year, the pace has not slowed.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw invoked the staffing crisis following a West Philadelphia shooting that on Tuesday night left five young men wounded and 100 shell casings outside a recreation center.

Outlaw said adequate staffing allows police to have a more “visible presence.”
“We will never, ever be able to truly quantify how much violence would never occur,” she said, “if prospective offenders see police in the area before they act.”

The police staffing issue is not unique to Philadelphia. Countrywide there is a shortage of new recruits to fill jobs vacated by retiring officers. It’s a complicated time to do policing; it’s no wonder that people are shying away from the profession.

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of, and witnessed by, Minneapolis cops brought much-needed scrutiny to police, with calls to “defund” departments (and unions) and for more accountability, higher standards and better training. It also turned cops into pariahs in many places, including many of the cities — including Philly — where gun crime has skyrocketed. That’s not exactly great for PR.

Like in other cities, many Philadelphians — including City Councilmembers — in 2020 advocated for decreasing the department’s budget and staff. They wanted to shift funds to other community and health organizations to answer calls that do not necessarily need police intervention. But as violent crime has risen, that has also changed.

In April, a Pew survey of Philadelphia residents found that 70 percent of respondents feel unsafe in their neighborhoods, up 30 percent from August 2020, with 61 percent calling for more police officers, not fewer. That was particularly true of Black and Brown residents, who more often live in gun violence-plagued neighborhoods: Nearly 70 percent of Black respondents and 63 percent of Hispanics said the City has too few officers.

City Council in June voted to give the police department an additional $250,000 for increased recruitment efforts, some of which the Inky piece laid out, including recruiting on campuses and job fairs; reducing the age to apply from 21 to 20; partnering with local colleges and the YMCA to help potential recruits train for the reading and agility test, which, Orso and Briggs wrote, more than half of applicants fail. Mayor Kenney in April also lifted the City’s two-year-old residency requirement for police officers, which seems to have depressed applications. (The Police Department, through a spokesman, declined to talk to me about its recruitment efforts.)

The police staffing issue is not unique to Philadelphia. Countrywide there is a shortage of new recruits to fill jobs vacated by retiring officers. It’s a complicated time to do policing; it’s no wonder that people are shying away from the profession.

Several cities around the country have enacted creative ways to recruit residents to their police forces, with some early successes. Here, some ideas Philly should consider:

Change the culture.

The callousness with which Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd became a symbol for a broken police culture in which officers seem to — and often do — act with immoral impunity to wield unnecessary power in the course of their jobs. Recruiting more good people to the job means actively making the police department a force for good, not an ongoing locus of power-fueled bad behavior. (See: Applauding fellow officers for beating protesters, cavorting with Proud Boys.)

One place to start is with officers themselves, who have the power to push their union to stop fighting for bad cops to keep their jobs. (They shouldn’t.) That’s what happened in California in 2020, when the three largest police unions released a reform agenda to unveil and jettison bad actors from their police force.

Under Commissioner Outlaw, the PPD has launched ABLE (Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement) training to create a culture of peer intervention; and the department has for years embedded some mental health and de-escalation programming into its training. That’s a start. Massachusetts-based violence-prevention organization Roca has had great success with using cognitive behavioral training for police officers, to help them approach their constituents with more empathy. And Camden NJ’s focus on community relations under its revamped police department has led to greater trust and, not coincidentally, a higher solve rate for crimes.

Make it easier to apply.

With a staffing crisis in the works, shouldn’t it be easy to apply for a job with the police department? In Philly, it is decidedly not. Right now, the PPD’s website for joining the force says that “The Recruitment Drive is now closed.” It does not say when it will be open again, or have an obvious link for signing up to be notified when the drive reopens.

The link for getting more info about the process goes to a page that lists all the steps to becoming an officer, including how to send in an initial application. That goes something like this: Police Officer Recruit Applications are available online during an open enrollment period at phila.peopleadmin.com/postings/search. In the keyword box search for “Police Officer Recruit.”

That keyword search, though, comes up with zero results — maybe because the recruitment drive is now closed? In any case, anyone interested in joining the police force would be rightly discouraged from actually applying.

Unlike Philly, Chattanooga, TN, leaves its application portal open all year round, and offers some of the preliminary tests and checks every month. That speeds up the hiring process for recruits, and has led to an increase in the number of annual applications reviewed by the city, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies, which funded several recruitment experiments in cities around the country in 2018.

Adopt better marketing.

As part of its work with Bloomberg’s What Works Cities Initiative, Chattanooga has also begun using behavioral science to find the best marketing strategies to bring in the desired recruits. The Tennessee city partnered with Behavioral Insights Team (BIT), to send out 22,000 postcards with four different messages on them to minority residents advertising police jobs.

According to Bloomberg Philanthropies, which reported on several successful recruitment ideas in 2019:
One postcard portrayed policing as “challenging but rewarding work.” Another highlighted the virtues of service. A third focused on the impact officers can make in the community, while a fourth talked up the long-term career benefits. The result? Messages related to the challenge of the job and career benefits were by far the most successful at inspiring applications, especially from people of color. Chattanooga has since added the winning messages to other recruiting materials, from posters to Facebook ads to public service announcements on the radio.

Offer bonuses.

Philly Councilmember Derek Green has proposed legislation that would give $10,000 bonuses to new police recruits; his bill is still waiting approval by Council, which resumes on September 15. Meanwhile, several other cities and states around the country have already enacted programs that give incoming officers an additional $5,000 (Florida), $7,500 (Seattle) or $20,000 (Washington, D.C.) to join their forces. In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro pushed Gov. Wolf to include “hero pay” for new and current officers in the state budget, which Philadelphia is able to use, as well.

Help applicants with the application.

Los Angeles, which has the second largest police force in the country, worked with BIT to help interested applicants navigate the many steps they have to pass before they can secure a spot on the force. This included launching a 24-hour automated chatbot to answer questions online, and a mentoring program that pairs current officers with recruits to guide them through the process. BIT also set up automated text reminders to “nudge” recruits at the point in their application process when about a third dropped out — when they had to write a personal history statement. A department spokesperson told Bloomberg the texts led to a 15 percent increase in those completing the application.

Hire more civilians.

Baltimore has become one of the first cities in the county to make a push for hiring civilians to investigate lower-level crimes, do research, interview witnesses, review cold cases, among other duties. This, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott told the Washington Post in April, will free up more officers to work on violent crime cases and patrol communities. “This is going to allow us to tap into previously unexplored but qualified personnel resources that can go through the hiring process in a more timely manner,” Scott said. “We want to ensure our police resources are being used effectively, constitutionally and focused where we need them in Baltimore City.”

In June, The Baltimore Banner reported that the department had received more than 750 applications for 35 open positions paying $50,000, including from recent college graduated, retired officers and those looking to change careers.

Speed up the department’s new approach to mental health calls.

In the wake of the police shooting of Walter Wallace, a West Philly man experiencing mental distress in the fall of 2020, the City announced important changes to the way 911 calls are to be handled in cases of mental health issues. In particular, the City allocated around $7 million for a pilot to expand mobile crisis response teams, made up of a peer support specialist, licensed mental health technician and a medical professional — but not, crucially, by police. A year later, according to an op-ed by members of the Treatment Not Trauma coalition, the program has yet to become fully operational.

The city of Eugene, Oregon, has done a version of this for 30 years called CAHOOTS, which responds to relevant 911 calls with a mental health crisis worker and an EMT trained to deal with mental health issues, homelessness, intoxication, substance abuse, disorientation and dispute resolution. In 2019, CAHOOTS responded to 24,000 calls, about 17 percent of total 911 alerts; they called for police backup only 250 times. That is not only a way to save officer time, it also saves money — CAHOOTS saves about $8 million on public safety and $14 million on ambulance/ER treatment annually — and lives.

“I believe it’s time for law enforcement to quit being a catch-base for everything our community and society needs,” Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner told CNN in 2020. “We need to get law enforcement professionals back to doing the core mission of protecting communities and enforcing the law, and then match resources with other services like behavioral health — all those things we tend to lump on the plate of law enforcement.”

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