Police Accountability Unit

Founded in 2016, the Police Accountability Unit (PAU) is instrumental in our efforts to provide high-quality, client-centered legal representation. Using a diverse array of datasets, the PAU staff works to improve outcomes for Defender clients, aid trial attorneys in their representation of clients with police-related issues, and effectuate policy and legal changes related to systemic police misconduct. 

Client-Centered Representation

PAU advances the core mission of the Defender Association through

  • attorney training and consultation,
  • direct representation of clients with police-related issues,
  • proactive litigation, and
  • tracking systemic police misconduct impacting Defender clients.

PAU has worked on the following issues to improve outcomes for Defender clients:

In 2019, PAU analyzed Philadelphia police officers’ use of body-worn cameras in the 24th District — which includes parts of Kensington, Port Richmond, and Juniata Park. Of the 60 cases PAU reviewed from March 2018 to April 2019, only 6 included body-camera footage before a person was arrested.

When footage was available, it revealed concerning inconsistencies:

  • In 18 of the 60 cases, one or more detained people never appeared in arrest paperwork — paperwork required by the 2011 federal consent decree in Bailey v. City of Philadelphia that resulted from a lawsuit over racial disparities in police use of stop and frisk.
  • PAU’s review resulted in an Internal Affairs investigation that found officers failed to follow the Philadelphia Police Department’s body-worn camera directive 97 times.

The investigation sustained departmental violations against 12 officers for failing to follow the body-worn camera directive, including a sergeant who  was sustained for failure to supervise the officers.  To learn more about PAU’s analysis, read the Philadelphia Inquirer’s coverage.

In 2019, Philadelphia police narcotics officers sent confidential informants to buy drugs from a North Philadelphia house, then — based on the informants’ reports — issued an arrest warrant for a Defender client. In 2020, PAU filed a motion arguing that the case relied on false information, and that it was part of a pattern of misconduct that calls into question any testimony by narcotics officers.

As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the motion documented numerous incidents of misconduct within the Narcotics Bureau, many of which had not previously been reported. Per PAU Attorney Michael Mellon, “It’s our position there are hundreds of cases they will need to reverse. The recent history of misconduct by numerous members of the Narcotics Unit, including its supervisors, supports the argument that any determinations by the court must be made by examining the record of the unit as a whole and not in a vacuum.”

In 2019, PAU identified a troubling increase in the use of the odor of marijuana as a pretext for searching vehicles during a period where traffic stops had sharply increased. Using the Philadelphia Police Department’s stop-and-frisk data, PAU was able to show that searches of cars based on the odor of marijuana were predominately targeting Black drivers, yet the majority of those searches did not result in the recovery of marijuana.

PAU’s analysis led to a change in policy by the Philadelphia Police Department that now requires officers to call a supervisor to verify the odor of marijuana.  Since PAU identified the increase in motor vehicle stops, the number of these stops has dropped. PAU continues to litigate odor of marijuana traffic stop cases in court. To learn more about PAU’s analysis, read the Philadelphia Inquirer’s coverage.

Legislative & Policy Work

PAU supports policy and legislative efforts that affect our clients and community with the goal of promoting a more transparent and accountable system of policing in Philadelphia. PAU has provided analysis, education, and leadership on the following initiatives:

PAU identified massive racial disparities in traffic stops performed by the Philadelphia Police Department, which disproportionately impact Black drivers.

PAU’s data analysis was integral to the passage of Philadelphia’s Driving Equality Act in October 2021. The first law of its kind in a major US city, this groundbreaking legislation bars police officers from pulling over drivers solely for certain low-level motor vehicle offenses.

A companion bill requires a public dataset of traffic stops, and Executive Order 6-21 mandates the implementation of both bills. PAU’s analysis and advocacy were featured in local, national, and international media, including CNN, NBC, BET, and ABC.

In February 2021, the City of Philadelphia passed legislation to establish the Citizens Police Oversight Commission (CPOC) after voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure in November 2020. This legislation empowers civilians to lead investigations of complaints against police and improves transparency of police misconduct and discipline. PAU’s analysis, education, and expertise were instrumental in the passage of CPOC legislation and were featured on WHYY, in community town halls, and in City Council testimony.

Reporting Police Misconduct in Philadelphia

There are several methods to report complaints against police in Philadelphia. Complaint methods differ based on the law enforcement agency.

IMPORTANT REMINDERS:

  • If you have criminal charges pending, please speak with an attorney before filing a complaint.
  • Remember, if you file a complaint, that statement could be used against you in court.

Complaints Against the Philadelphia Police Department

The Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) Internal Affairs Division accepts complaints online through their Official Complaint Form.

PPD also has a one-page Official Citizen’s Complaint Form which may be given in-person at any police district, any City Council office, any Neighborhood Advisory Centers, the Mayor’s office for Community Services, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, or PPD Internal Affairs.

Alternatively, the City of Philadelphia Citizens Police Oversight Commission (CPOC) accepts complaints against Philadelphia police officers and sends them to the Philadelphia Police Department Internal Affairs Division. CPOC serves as an impartial serves as an impartial intermediary and accepts complaints online, via email, mail, or in person; see details here.

Complaints against School District Safety Officers

Students and parents/guardians can submit complaints pertaining to the quality of service and conduct of School Safety Officers (SSO) by completing the SSO Complaint Process online.

Complaints Against the Philadelphia Housing Authority Police Department

Complaints can be filed with the Philadelphia Housing Authority Police Department (PHAPD) or the Office of Audit and Compliance (OAC). To file a complaint with PHAPD, see details here.

OAC accepts complaints by telephone, fax, U.S. mail, email, or in person; see details here.

Complaints Against the SEPTA Transit Police Department

The SEPTA comment form accepts complaints online. 

Complaints Against the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office

The Sheriff’s Office accepts complaints online through their File a Complaint form. 

Complaints Against Temple University Campus Safety Services

Temple accepts complaints via their Citizen Complaint Form, which may be “given in-person at any campus headquarters office, substation, from any university office as designated by the Executive Director.” Temple also accepts complaints via phone, via their online Tip form, or in-person at any of their locations

 

Complaints Against University of Pennsylvania’s Police Department

Penn accepts complaints online through their Police Complaint Form

 

Complaints Against Drexel University’s Department of Public Safety

Drexel accepts complaints online through their Report a Complaint form.

 

Complaints Against Jefferson University Campus Security Department

The Security Department’s Investigation Unit looks into university policy violations committed on the university/hospital campus. The Investigation Unit can be reached via email, phone, or in-person; see details here. The Investigation Unit also maintains an anonymous tip line.

Complaints Against the Delaware River Port Authority Police Department

To file an internal affairs complaint with the DRPA Internal Affairs Unit, email Sergeant Sean Longfellow at splongfellow@drpa.org or by phone at (856) 969-7836; see more details here.

Complaints Against the Amtrak Police Department

The Amtrak Police Department Office of Internal Affairs accepts citizens’ complaints via phone, mail, or in person; see details here.

Complaints Against Pennsylvania State Police

The Pennsylvania State Police Internal Affairs Division evaluates all reports of personnel (enlisted or civilian) misconduct. Complaints are accepted in person, by phone, online, or by mail; see details here.

If you are represented by the Defender Association of Philadelphia and were the victim of police misconduct, or if you witnessed misconduct by the police and think the victim is represented by the Defender Association, please contact the Police Accountability Unit.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

VIDEO:  10 Rules for Dealing with Police.” by Flex Your Rights

From the ACLU website: Know Your Rights: Stopped by Police
Information on what the law requires and strategies for handling police encounters. 

CONNECT WITH THE POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY UNIT

Email:  pau@philadefender.org

PAU Staff:
Michael Mellon, PAU Attorney
Paula Sen, PAU Attorney
Becky Mer, PAU Policy Analyst

Follow the Police Accountability Unit on Twitter: @PHLDefendersPAU