Meet the nominees for Philly’s new Police Oversight Commission
The nine prospective nominees include lawyers, judges, authors and activists.
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During a virtual town hall on Monday, Feb. 8, nominees for Philadelphia’s new police oversight board introduced themselves, and overall, they were praised as the new watchdogs that the city needs.
The nine potential commissioners for the new Citizens Police Oversight Commission (CPOC), were selected from a pool of over 300 applicants by a board approved by City Council and Mayor Jim Kenney.
Nominees for Philly’s new police oversight board introduced themselves at a Monday night virtual town hall.— WHYY News (@WHYYNews) February 8, 2022
Five months after the selection process began, the meeting was a chance for the public to weigh in. https://t.co/43zunP20Ib
Five months after the selection process began, Monday night’s meeting was an opportunity for the public to give their feedback.
During the wave of social justice activism that followed the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others, over a dozen City Council members wrote a letter to Mayor Kenney, seeking to address the “crisis of legitimacy” between citizens and the Philadelphia Police Department.
“Policing is difficult, dangerous work. It is vitally important work. For exactly those reasons, the Police Department must earn and maintain the trust of the communities it serves. Sadly, most of our vulnerable citizens feel less safe, no moreso, in the presence of our police,” the letter read.
The letter, signed by 14 of the 17 members of City Council, called for a “fully resourced, independent police oversight, including authority to conduct contemporaneous, independent review of civilian complaints and use-of-force incidents.”
The city’s pre-existing oversight board was established in 1993, but it had a low budget and no real subpoena power.
Philly residents voted to eliminate the old board in favor of something new via ballot question in November 2020, and in May 2021, Council passed the bill that could create the CPOC.
The new board has the ability to initiate its own investigations, with or without a formal complaint, while the old board could only forward complaints to police. It will also have a voice in what charges are brought against officers if investigations reach that point, rather than leaving those decisions solely to the PPD Charging Unit.
Police leadership must now consult directly with the CPOC about disciplinary actions. If the police commissioner wants to take different actions than what the board recommended, they must be explained in writing.
Additionally, if the department drops charges or enters a guilty plea in a misconduct case, it also must explain why in writing, and the board can object.
The nine citizens nominated to sit on the first Citizens Police Oversight Commission hail from a variety of backgrounds and bring a diverse set of experiences to the decision table.
Maryelis Santiago is a Harrowgate resident and a professional in the public and nonprofit sectors. She has worked as a user experience director for the city’s Philly311 mobile app, and is currently the Director of Family & Community Engagement at Esperanza Cyber Charter School.
John Solomon is a North Philly native who started a nonprofit called Endangered Kind, which specialized in Peer Support Services, Safety Intervention and providing resources to those seeking to avoid violence and be a positive influence in their neighborhood.
Jahlee Hatchett is the attorney advisor for the SEPTA Transit Police Department, and a member of SEPTA’s Diversity, Equity and Belonging Council.
Haakim Peay, the youngest nominee, is an assistant manager at the business consulting firm Empire Management Group, and a graduate business student at Morehouse College.
At the town hall, Peay said that the protests of 2020 were an eye-opening experience for him, where he learned more about the lack of trust in the police among his peers. On the commission, he wants to help “youth lead from the front.”
Rosaura Torres Thomas is the author of an autobiography called “Abuse Hidden Behind the Badge,” which details her experience as a victim of domestic violence at the hands of a police officer.
Thomas pledged to be an advocate for women that are scared to speak out against police-involved domestic violence, saying that the board’s job was to be their “eyes and ears.”
The remaining nominees include Allan Wong, member of the Philadelphia Police Asian American Advisory Committee, Melanie DeBouse, pastor of the congregation at Evangel Chapel, Benjamin Lerner, a former judge in the Court of Common Pleas, and Hasssan Bennett, a bail navigator with the Defender Association of Philadelphia.