The Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Committee (PLEAC) has informed the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh police departments that their accreditations are once again in jeopardy, after those agencies narrowly escaped having their accreditations revoked at a PLEAC board meeting in the summer.

Broad + Liberty first reported on July 21 that the accreditations for the police departments in those cities were pending revocation because of changes to their traffic stop policies which downgraded certain vehicle code offenses based on racial equity concerns from the respective city councils. 

A follow-up report on July 28 noted that PLEAC voted to put the revocation of Philadelphia’s accreditation on hold, after an emergency appearance before the commission by Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and Staff Inspector Fran Healy. 

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Then last week, PLEAC sent an official letter to Commissioner Outlaw obtained by Broad + Liberty notifying them that the issue was not settled, and their accreditation is again in jeopardy. 

The letter stated that the directives passed by the city council and mayor “placed the Police Department out of compliance with one of the current Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission…standards.” 

The cause of the meeting is noteworthy, especially amid continually rising crime in the city of Philadelphia. 

According to the PLEAC letter, at the July 26 meeting, “[Philadelphia PD] command staff had brought a waiver request to the meeting which they were prepared to submit. There was discussion, resulting motions, and a vote concerning the compliance status of Philadelphia Police with the standard in question at the meeting. It has subsequently been reported by several PLEAC members that there was confusion as to whether they were voting on the current compliance status of Philadelphia Police, or on the waiver request which Philadelphia Police was prepared to present at the meeting.”

Almost immediately following our July 28th coverage, several PLEAC board members contacted Broad + Liberty who said they were confused on whether they were voting to grant the department a temporary waiver or full accreditation retention, and left the meeting after the vote “feeling duped.”

These board members — all ranking law enforcement officials — spoke to Broad + Liberty under a condition of anonymity explaining they believe the PPD is not in compliance with PLEAC standards for not pushing back on these municipal ordinances, and that public safety has been placed in danger as a result. 

Some board members from the Delaware Valley stated that “the Sergeant in Philadelphia put a lot of effort to get the accreditation,” so some members of PLEAC are struggling with completely dismissing [Philadelphia’s PLEAC accreditation] versus accepting a possible waiver that can give them tentative accreditation. 

Abington Police Chief Pat Molloy, one of the voting PLEAC board members, did comment to Broad + Liberty on the record, saying, “We still have yet to consider [Philadelphia & Pittsburgh’s] application for a waiver which essentially just says that they are not in compliance with the standard. A waiver would allow them to retain accreditation because this ordinance has been imposed upon them by City Council. The members of the commission were conflicted because they know how hard the Philadelphia police rank and file, supervisory and leadership team, the FOP, and others worked together to achieve this status [under Commissioner Ramsey].”

“That said, the credibility of PLEAC is a real consideration, as we balance our responsibility to promote the best practices in the standardization of legal police policies and procedures with those elected officials who have encroached on these best practices because of their political agendas,” Molloy continued. “As an independent, apolitical commission, we recognize that this type of encroachment should be kept in check, as we all work together to protect and serve all citizens with the tools available to us from our Constitution and the Pennsylvania laws of criminal procedure.” 

So where does that leave Philadelphia? 

Jim Adams, accreditation program coordinator for PLEAC told Broad + Liberty that Philadelphia Police Department “has submitted a waiver request which will be on the agenda for the next PLEAC meeting for consideration.”

The PPD is committed to ensuring our Department has the most cutting edge policies and practices in place so that our Department can be the best it can be and our communities receive the best possible service. That will not change.

As for Pittsburgh, whose police did not show up to the July meeting, their accreditation is also pending revocation pursuant to a waiver request, for virtually the same issues. 

While some media reports equate PLEAC accreditation with merely a “good housekeeping seal of approval”, PLEAC accreditation is an important benchmark of a department’s adherence to state and national best practices, which are used to defend agencies against lawsuits and potential prosecutions for line-of-duty actions. 

Furthermore, Philadelphia negotiated a bonus structure with Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing Philadelphia Police officers, for meeting accreditation. These bonuses totaled $1,500 per officer for a total of $10 million, which will mean those funds were wasted should the department lose accreditation now.  

A Philadelphia Police Department sergeant highlighted those kinds of investments when explaining the department’s next steps.

“We are disheartened that the PA Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission reversed its earlier decision regarding the accreditation status of the PPD in light of the Philadelphia Driving Equality Ordinance and the corresponding Mayor’s Executive Order,” said public information officer Sgt. Eric Gripp. “Accreditation is an outward verification that the PPD has implemented best-practices which, in turn, serves to enhance legitimacy and trust by the communities we serve. It was for this reason the PPD invested its time, energy, staffing and money to achieve and maintain accreditation.”

“We have petitioned the Commission for a waiver and the outcome of that decision by the Commission will be made at the next regular meeting on October 27, 2022,” Gripp continued. “Regardless of that outcome, the PPD is committed to ensuring our Department has the most cutting edge policies and practices in place so that our Department can be the best it can be and our communities receive the best possible service. That will not change.”

Update: This article has been updated to include a comment from the Philadelphia Police.

A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @PublicSafetySME

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