Written Testimony on Bill 200363, Bill 200367 and Resolution 200377
Proposals to Reinstitute a Pre-hire Residency Requirement for City Employees and
Create a Citizens Police Oversight Commission
City Council Law and Government Committee
June 17, 2020

As Philadelphians respond firmly with the rest of the country to the killing of George Floyd and so many other people of color, we applaud City Council for beginning to move swiftly and on multiple fronts to address systemic racism within City government and, in particular, within law enforcement. Many changes are long overdue, and city residents deserve permanent and meaningful reforms. Some of the issues at hand are beyond the scope of Committee of Seventy’s expertise and our mission to strive for ethical, representative and effective government, but we would encourage members to consider these initial comments on the two proposals being heard today regarding a one-year pre-hire residency requirement for city employees and the creation of a new police oversight body.

Bill 200363: Reinstituting a Pre-hire Residency Requirement for City Employees

Extensive discussion and debate more than 12 years ago led to the repeal of the 1950s-era requirement that civil service employees be residents of the city for at least one year prior to their appointment. While requiring all current and newly appointed employees to live in the city is a clearer and more sensible policy, we are deeply concerned about limiting the applicant pool only to those individuals who already reside in the city.

As was argued by Seventy and others when this provision was lifted in 2008, it is extremely uncommon for local or state governments to require pre-hire residency as a condition of employment; such a rule is non-existent in the private sector. Employers of all sizes and types generally accrue substantial benefits to recruiting from the widest possible base of prospective workers; and this should be true in Philadelphia city government. That said, requiring residency after securing a municipal job involves a different set of arguments, including the benefit of having city employees living as part of the community in which they work and serve.

We understand this issue is intensely salient as it pertains to the Philadelphia Police Department, where nearly a third of employees reportedly live outside city limits due to an exemption granted in the City’s contract with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5. We believe as many do that a police force that does not reflect the public it serves is a serious problem and can contribute to the persistence of biased and dangerous interactions between officers and members of the public. This specific issue must be addressed as part of the larger wave of law enforcement reform.

But the blanket, one-year pre-hire residency requirement for all civil service employees is a separate matter, which incidentally, Philadelphia City Council has voted twice to eliminate: first in 2001 with unanimous approval (followed by a veto from then-Mayor John Street) and again in 2008 after vigorous and at times heated deliberation.

Before moving this legislation further and reverting to a policy that will assuredly shrink and make less competitive the pool of prospective public servants, we urge City Council to consider the employment practices of nearly all other U.S. cities and consult members of the Civil Service Commission, the Department of Human Resources and other officials in the administration to seek the consensus opinion on the impact of this proposed change.

Bill 200367 and Resolution 200377: Creating a Citizens Police Oversight Commission

The lack of transparency from and accountability for the Police Department has contributed to an utter loss of trust among many Philadelphians, most acutely in communities of color that have endured a long history of incidents of police brutality. The creation of a permanent and more powerful police oversight body in the Home Rule Charter should be part of the multifaceted response to ensure law enforcement evolves to meet the needs of our residents.

It will be critical, however, that the membership of the new commission and its specific duties and powers also be etched permanently in the Charter. This could not be more important than with a body that must be guaranteed full political independence, adequate resources, and the authority necessary to work with, and act as a robust check against, a city agency with 7,300+ employees and $750-million budget.

The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, led by experts and advocates in police accountability, lists numerous fundamental components of an effective police oversight body that should be considered in building this new commission. Campaign Zero, a newer initiative of activists and researchers, also outlines various duties and powers that City Council could review.

We agree with the sponsors of this legislation that voters expect and deserve to weigh in on a proposed Charter amendment creating this commission, and time is very short to put a question on the November 3, 2020 general election ballot.

But while Seventy strongly endorses building a new, Charter-mandated police oversight body, we would urge committee members to consider holding this legislation until a fully constructed proposal can be given to the voters. Similar to other independent municipal bodies -- the Civil Service Commission, the Board of Ethics -- a new Citizens Police Oversight Commission should have its membership and essential powers codified in the Charter.

We welcome the opportunity to support this effort in the coming months, examining best practices and research from other organizations and cities, and most important, to hear from Philadelphia residents and stakeholders about the oversight body they feel is needed to help keep them safe and make lasting change.

Thank you.