Lilac Philly

#StopTheFOP Twitch Stream

By Mark and Eamon, Dec. 23, 2020

#Stop the FOP

On November 18, Lilac hosted a watch party for a hearing held by the Philadelphia City Council on the Philadelphia Police Department’s contracts with the city. We worked with #StopTheFOP organizers to produce a public event to help people understand why this contract is so important.

The #StopTheFOP coalition was formed to organize around the upcoming police contract negotiations between the City of Philadelphia and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). The FOP represents the officers of the Philadelphia Police Department in contract negotiations and arbitration. Interestingly enough, they are not a union, but a fraternal organization that gets to pretend to be a union under PA’s Act 111. They don’t negotiate a contract in the traditional sense, they negotiate an “arbitration agreement”. When there is a grievance, the arbiters are selected from the American Arbitration Association — one for the FOP, one for the city, and one mutually agreed upon. The current agreement does not serve the people of Philadelphia. For starters, arbitrators have the power to reinstate officers fired with cause. This makes it difficult to fire officers who grossly abuse their power. Additionally, disciplinary records are rarely made public, and are removed after 2 years. Journalists have successfully filed Right To Know requests for some disciplinary records but these requests are not simple.

The #StopTheFOP coalition is fighting for a new contract that funds communities, not cops’ bloated overtime and salary (or dry cleaning bills). In addition to Lilac, the coalition consists of Philly SocFem, Philadelphia Socialist Alternative, Reclaim Philadelphia, and other left groups around the city. Together, we have crafted a set of demands:

  • Transparency and Community Input
  • Divestment From Police; Investment in Social Services
  • Police Accountability

The Hearing

This City Council hearing was unprecedented; typically the public has had no input on the police contract. It only happened because Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson introduced legislation demanding it. We hosted a Twitch stream to give the community a place to watch the hearing together and improve its accessibility. Typically these hearings are painfully boring and almost no context is given to who is speaking, making it difficult to fully understand unless you’ve been vigilantly following Philly politics. Members of Lilac and interested Philadelphians used the chat box on the side to share important background information. It also allowed us to talk as it was happening. Usually, watching TV is an individual activity, but a Twitch stream lets people interact and ask questions. We razzed councilmembers for looking at their phones, and cheered on members of the coalition that made the decision to testify to their experiences.

Public testimony took hours — around 98 people signed up for public comment. Many people shared stories about being attacked, assaulted, and demeaned by Philadelphia Police, and then watching these officers return to their jobs and continue abusive behaviors. The hearing on the police contract was one of the few venues people had to publicly talk about their experiences of police abuse. Watching along with a community made listening to painful testimony from brave community members easier.

We also learned that the city plans to make requests during contract negotiations:

  • Restore the residency requirement for new hires. This does not remove resources from police officers. Plenty of police officers live in the Northeast (technically within city limits) but this has not made a material difference in terms of the PPD’s power.
  • Allow the Police Commissioner to transfer officers without restriction. This is arguably worse in cases of abuse. Transferring officers allows the PPD to hide officers that cause PR issues, and send them to terrorize new neighborhoods.
  • Expand the Department’s ability to use civilians, including as public safety officers and to conduct investigations. This introduces the possibility of removing resources from the police. However, this depends on implementation. It is important to remember that carceral power extends beyond policing, into other areas of “civilian” life — medicine, social work, education, public assistance, etc. If these civilians still have the power to punish, the right to carry weapons, and tight relationships with police, then “public safety officers” are just another part of the carceral state.
  • Prohibit arbitrators from changing the penalty if the employee is found to have committed the misconduct. This is a positive development. Arbitrators have reinstated officers while making excuses for their cruel behavior. 70% of arbitration cases led to reduced or overturned penalties.
  • Expand the existing arbitrator pool. Although the current pool of arbitrators is overwhelmingly white and male, this change does not guarantee a different arbitration process.
  • Restrict back pay awards. If the city pays out less when officers are reinstated, there will be more money for other areas of the city budget. The City of Philadelphia paid $1.2 million in back pay between 2011 and 2019.

We’re glad our Twitch event was a success with over 160 viewers. People reported that having a community to watch with made the hearing easier to watch and more valuable. This was easy to organize and we’ve already done it again for a hearing related to Philadelphia’s tax abatement for new construction, which has serious implications for gentrification and school funding. The Twitch interface is more accessible than the public access site for city council hearings — we can stream all kinds of hearings that are usually overlooked and invisible.

Most importantly, we had a troll come into the chat and yell at us for not loving cops. And isn’t that the true measure of success?