In the two years since the civil unrest protests following the killing of George Floyd, conversations about how to achieve public safety while serving the broader needs of the community have been a major focus in cities across the country, with considerable scrutiny of the funding necessary for effective policing. In Philadelphia, the dialogue has been heightened by residents’ concerns about public safety and the city’s gun violence crisis.
In December 2020, as national tension around the issue of police funding piqued, Philadelphia City Council’s Police Reform Working Group requested that the Office of the City Controller (Controller’s Office) audit the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD). In the request, Council specifically stated that they, “…have little insight into how PPD is spending its funds.” PPD consistently has the largest budget of all the City of Philadelphia’s (City) departments, with spending exceeding $750 million in fiscal year (FY) 2021.
In response to Council’s request and pursuant to Section 6-400(c) of the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter, the Controller’s Office undertook a review of PPD’s spending and resource allocation. The Controller’s Office engaged Stout Risius Ross, LLC to conduct this engagement, with the support of Horsey, Buckner & Heffler, LLP and the Center for Policing Equity. The review sought to understand PPD’s budget, actual spending, and its deployment of resources.
The review found that PPD’s budget is not developed with involvement and input from the communities it serves but rather, its budget is generally based on historical spending levels, including headcounts and the perceived needs of different units and programs. This results in a budget that is neither strategically developed nor responsive to or aligned with the voiced concerns and needs of Philadelphians. Additionally, it does not appear that PPD performs any analysis to identify how many positions (officers or civilians) or hours are required each year to meet its public safety goals, hindering PPD’s ability to determine the total number of positions needed to respond to the needs of the community.
The review analyzed PPD’s actual spending, finding its spending per capita consistent with other large police departments across the country. However, PPD’s spending on personnel costs, approximately 95% of its total spending, was the highest of the departments reviewed, with other large departments averaging approximately 90%.
With about 95% of PPD’s funding spent on personnel costs, the review examined PPD’s staffing trends in detail. PPD’s staffing levels have decreased significantly in recent years, from 6,590 filled uniform positions at the end of FY 2019 to 5,983 at the end of FY 2022. Based on recent attrition and recruiting trends, this total is likely to continue to decrease and could fall below 5,200 by the end of FY 2025 if the department does not increase its recruitment and retention of officers. The number of officers available for duty is further reduced by officers who are out on injured on duty (IOD) claims, which have more than doubled since FY 2018. During the fourth quarter of FY 2022, there were an average of 572 officers unavailable for duty as the result of an IOD claim.
According to PPD and the Finance Department’s Office of Risk Management, Heart and Lung cases are not tracked separately from IOD cases. The current system in place for monitoring and investigating Heart and Lung cases is convoluted, lacks accountability, and does not appear to be adequate, based on recently documented instances of abuse of the benefit.
Of PPD’s approximately 6,000 total officers, only 2,500 are assigned to patrol. In addition to officers assigned to specialized units, many officers (not officers on limited duty) are assigned to positions that conduct administrative work, such as delivering mail. The review found that PPD did not have formalized job descriptions for all positions, making it difficult to assess whether positions could be done by a civilian instead of an officer, a process called civilianization. Moreover, it is difficult to measure performance and make data-driven decisions regarding the allocation and/or deployment of resources without consistent, documented job descriptions.
With 2,500 officers assigned to patrol, the total headcount per district ranges from 70 to 190 officers. It is important to note that officers on IOD claims are still counted by PPD in the total number of officers available in a district for patrol deployment. After accounting for officers out on IOD, as well as other types of leave (such as vacation and sick time), the number of patrol officers available are scheduled to be on duty during one of three eight-hour shifts each day. From FY 2017 to FY 2022, this resulted in an average of approximately 11 officers assigned to low crime districts and 22 officers assigned to high crime districts at any particular time during the day. In FY 2021 and FY 2022, the number of officers available for patrol declined significantly, but these declines were not uniformly distributed across the city. The East division, which includes the city’s Kensington neighborhood, experienced the largest overall decline in patrol deployment, with FY 2022’s total at 78% of its FY 2017 level. Patrol deployment in the Central division, which includes Center City, experienced the smallest decline, recovering to 92% of its FY 2017 level by FY 2022.
Operation Pinpoint is PPD’s primary crime fighting strategy. It was launched in January 2019 as a pilot program with seven pinpoint grids, but rapidly expanded to 45 grids in 2020. Based on discussions with PPD, the decision to expand Operation Pinpoint rapidly and dramatically may have impaired PPD’s ability to effectively implement it and complete a robust evaluation of the program and its component grid strategies. The review found that a formal, independent evaluation of Operation Pinpoint has not been conducted, nor has PPD provided Stout with any evaluations of Operation Pinpoint or indicated that one is underway.
Consistent with national standards, PPD seeks to answer at least 90% of 911 calls within 10 seconds. Between 2017 and 2021, the percentage of 911 calls answered within 10 seconds dramatically decreased from 95% to just 68%. While the decline was most significant between 2020 and 2021, and it appears that some improvement was made in early 2022, PPD has not met this goal since 2018. Additionally, PPD’s time to respond to the highest priority 911 calls was longer than any other large city reviewed.
The analysis also reviewed response times by district, finding the police districts that experienced the longest dispatch response times are concentrated in the city’s Black and Brown communities. Districts with more white residents received faster response times overall, with the districts with the highest concentration of white residents experiencing dispatch response times more than twice as fast as those districts with majority Black and Brown Philadelphians.
In conducting the review, several examples of outdated systems and operational inefficiencies were identified. For example, physical paper documents are hand-delivered across districts by uniformed personnel. This practice is inefficient and a waste of both physical and financial resources. Another example is PPD’s use of a teletype system to electronically disseminate information to be printed and read aloud at the following day’s roll call. According to PPD personnel, creating the teletype takes approximately two hours of an employee’s time each day. This process is redundant and inefficient, as the information could be emailed directly to all districts daily. In combination, such inefficient systems and processes can contribute to financial waste, unproductive labor, and an organizational culture that can struggle to embrace change or feel empowered to pursue new strategies.
The report also includes a review of several key components of policing that could have a direct impact on how Philadelphians perceive the legitimacy of police in their community. These components include, but are not limited to, PPD’s use of body-worn cameras and clearance rates, the share of cases deemed solved by police. Community legitimacy refers to the community’s perception of the police, whether the public has trust and confidence in the police and believe that officers conduct policing activities fairly. Maintaining and strengthening community relationships and interactions in order to improve the perception of the police’s legitimacy is a necessity for improved public safety outcomes in Philadelphia.
According to PPD, all patrol districts and specialized units such as highway patrol, traffic patrol, airport, and strike force will have body-worn cameras within the next year. Body-worn cameras can be an effective tool for improving the effectiveness and legitimacy of a police department in the eyes of the community. However, PPD’s usage of body-worn cameras could be improved. Currently, the use of body-worn camera footage is extremely limited – it cannot be used for training purposes and is only very occasionally allowed to be released to the public.
From 2016 to 2020, Philadelphia had the lowest homicide clearance rate of the 10 largest cities in the U.S., significantly lower than the rates for cities of comparable size such as Phoenix and San Antonio. While clearance rates are an imperfect measure of policing effectiveness, they are also intertwined with the public’s perception of police and overall legitimacy. While clearance rates may improve through greater community participation in investigations, PPD must first demonstrate a sincere and sustained effort to build trust and legitimacy in the eyes of the community such that residents are willing to participate in such activities.
This report makes a series of recommendations focused on ways PPD can allocate resources based on the needs of the people and communities it serves, as well as make organization and operational improvements. Key recommendations include:
- PPD should construct a budget centered on the communicated needs of the communities it serves and should determine its personnel and programmatic requirements based on the needs of the community. This process will require the support of the Mayor’s Office, Managing Director’s Office, and the Finance Office.
- PPD should establish the number of people and amount of labor required to effectively operate within each of PPD’s districts and units and PPD should develop an understanding of the responsibilities of each of its employees. By creating formalized job descriptions, PPD can create consistency in roles and responsibilities throughout the department. This will also allow PPD to better understand the resources needed throughout the various districts and units within the department, as well as what roles must be staffed by sworn personnel, and those that could be considered for civilianization.
- Currently, the data maintained by PPD’s Safety Office and Risk Management related to Heart and Lung usage is limited and disorganized. PPD should improve the accuracy and consistency of the data collected and tracked related to IOD and leave usage, including the Heart and Lung benefit. In doing so, PPD can better identify instances for further investigation to improve its means of detecting instances of abuse of the system.
- With the guidance of the Managing Director and Finance Director, PPD should work with Risk Management to design a process that better identifies instances that require investigation and takes action against officers who are abusing Heart and Lung.
- PPD should develop continual monitoring systems and community feedback mechanisms to ensure staffing and deployment of officers in each district is adequate for, and informed by, the evolving needs of the community.
- PPD should perform a comprehensive evaluation of Operation Pinpoint. A comprehensive evaluation would enable Philadelphians to be informed about whether Operation Pinpoint is improving public safety, how it is responding to the needs of community, and whether there are unintended or unexpected consequences from the strategy. PPD must also identify opportunities to improve or expand data collection and develop a shared commitment among District Captains for Operation Pinpoint.
- PPD should conduct an on-going assessment of 911 response time to ensure equitable response times across districts and identify opportunities for improvement. PPD should analyze its 911 response at the district level to understand the factors that create inefficiencies and slow response times. In conjunction with the deployment of resources, this analysis can identify potential solutions to improve response times and eliminate inequities that exist across districts.
- PPD should update and modernize its systems and processes to reduce inefficiencies and redundancies, like eliminating unnecessary paper processes.
- PPD should complete the distribution of body-worn cameras and broaden the usage of footage collected by the cameras.
- PPD should collect structured, detailed feedback from the community as part of a long-term, sustainable commitment to community engagement with the goal of creating community-centered policing practices that effectively address community-specific public safety needs.
- The mayor should enable and empower other City departments and agencies to participate in the development and implementation of public safety strategies, such as mental health crisis response.
Additional findings and recommendations are included throughout this report.
PPD’s reliance on historical budgeting, staffing, and resource allocation practices, as well as its use of outdated technology and processes, limits its ability to be informed about and strategically respond to the varied needs of communities across the city. The findings and recommendations in this report represent an important opportunity to not only improve public safety outcomes but also to build legitimacy and trust with Philadelphia communities through an ongoing dialogue with the public about community concerns and potential solutions to address them. These concerns and possible solutions should directly inform what resources police need and how police invest time, money, and resources.