Shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve in 2007, a Philadelphia police officer shot and killed an unarmed man. Twenty months later, District Attorney Lynne Abraham is still investigating, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission is monitoring at least nine complaints about police killings of civilians since 2006 that prosecutors are still investigating. Until the district attorney decides whether to file criminal charges, the cases hang in suspense: Victims’ families cannot get closure, and the Police Department cannot interview the officers, who often remain on desk duty for months until the case is resolved.
Civilian watchdogs say the district attorney’s indecision creates an impression that the authorities are unwilling to police themselves. “The public perception is of a whitewash, and whether it’s true or not, the public perception is just as important,” said Robert S. Nix, chairman of the Police Advisory Commission, a civilian oversight agency. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has encouraged the district attorney to speed up inquiries to help build public trust. Abraham, who plans to retire next year after nearly 19 years in office, has bristled at suggestions that her office is slow to pursue allegations against police. Defense advocates say they have no evidence that prosecutors quash investigations. “To be honest, when you compare these fatal-shooting cases, there is no rhyme or reason why they take so much time in Philadelphia,” said William Johnson, director of the Police Advisory Commission.