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Philadelphia City Controller Issues Scathing Report On City's Handling Of Last Year's Racial Injustice Protests

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - The Philadelphia city controller has issued a damning report on the city's handling of protests from last spring and summer. The images from last year's racial injustice protests are hard to forget.

What started as peaceful protests quickly devolved into mayhem. Stores were looted, police cars were set on fire, and people were eventually tear-gassed.

An independent investigation by the city's controller found the reason why the situation deteriorated so quickly is because the city was unprepared.

"We found that the city failed to efficiently plan for the unrest despite previous experience managing similar large scale events successfully," Philadelphia City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said.

The investigation was conducted by law enforcement experts Ballard Spahr LLP and AT-RISK International, Inc. They concluded that the failures began at the top with Mayor Jim Kenney.

"The ultimate responsibility for any city response lies with the mayor and he did not exercise the leadership that was necessary throughout the unrest," Rhynhart said.

The unrest began in the spring following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. And then again in the summer following the police shooting death of Walter Wallace Jr. in West Philly. The 75-page report reads that despite demonstrations deteriorating in other cities, leaders in Philadelphia didn't think it would happen here.

It says that led to Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel, who is also the city's emergency management director, to not adequately staff for the demonstrations. The report reads that because police reinforcements weren't there, the situation was nearly impossible to diffuse.

They also conclude that because tensions were so high, and police were under-staffed, they had no choice but to use force. That included tear gassing demonstrators. The report says tear gas hasn't been used in Philadelphia for 35 years, since 1985.

Despite the scathing report, the city controller offered recommendations to make sure this never happens again.

Among the recommendations is to make the Office of Emergency Management a standalone agency, improve intelligence distribution, commit to a community policing and outreach model to build trust with the community, and equip specialized units, like SWAT, with body cameras. They also recommend updating the police department's use of force policy to include when and when not to use tear gas.

"We need to say that it must be used only in the most extreme situations where life is in danger and not for general crowd control," Rhynhart said.

A spokesman for the City of Philadelphia said in a statement "we reject her unsubstantiated claims that the Mayor and members of his Administration did not exercise 'leadership.'" The statement goes on to say, "The Mayor and Police Commissioner have previously owned up to mistakes made, and committed to reforms that are ongoing."


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