The Citizens Police Oversight Commission (CPOC) was recently informed of a partnership between the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) and the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) in response to staffing shortages within PPD. This partnership, known as Operation Trigger Lock, comes at a time in which violent crime and gun violence continues to surge throughout the city. Operation Trigger Lock will pair PSP troopers with PPD Highway Patrol officers in both PPD and PSP police vehicles and deploy them within Philadelphia communities. The operation is active and expected to run through the end of August 2022.
CPOC does not have oversight authority over Pennsylvania State Police and will only be able to field complaints regarding the actions of Philadelphia Police. Although CPOC cannot investigate or process complaints against PSP, residents are encouraged to share their experiences with the agency, to assist CPOC in collecting data to review and evaluate Operation Trigger Lock.
Complaints against the Pennsylvania State Police can be filed through the website below. CPOC encourages residents who have complaints surrounding the behavior of any PSP trooper assigned to Operation Trigger Lock to visit the following site to lodge their complaint: https://www.psp.pa.gov/contact/Pages/Compliment-Complaint-Procedures.aspx
The Commission’s Concerns
CPOC did not receive advance notice of PPD’s intent to launch Operation Trigger Lock. or any details about how the operation would function. PPD’s lack of communication with CPOC hinders the two agencies working together in an effective manner to better serve the City of Philadelphia. Including CPOC in discussions surrounding Operation Trigger Lock would afford the opportunity for CPOC to bring diverse and insightful perspectives to the strategic planning and implementation. PPD could better prepare for public response and provide validation for community concerns and incorporate them into the planning instead of having to react to concerns after implementation. Moreover, effective collaboration between CPOC and PPD is crucial in ensuring equitable policing for Philadelphia communities for the duration of the operation and beyond. Community policing isn’t community policing if the community isn’t involved. Since CPOC did not receive advanced notice, the agency was unable to raise concerns, ask questions, and prepare information to distribute to residents on how this Operation may affect policing in their communities prior to Trigger Lock’s implementation. The following issues are highlighted for the Department’s consideration:
- Operation Trigger Lock deploys PSP troopers to densely populated urban communities within Philadelphia. Many troopers are deployed to state highways, often in rural or suburban areas, and may have little to no experience or cultural competency policing Philadelphia’s diverse neighborhoods. In addition, PSP troopers are not subject to PPD guidelines or directives, and residents have no recourse should troopers behave outside of PPD norms.
- Operation Trigger Lock provides access to PSP resources, including investigative and forensic tools, however, it appears the focus of the operation will be on pairing the 2 agencies in a patrol setting. This partnership may have been better served by providing investigative assistance to PPD in collecting and processing forensic evidence and assisting in expediting Philadelphia’s backlog of gun and violent crime investigations. The Department may also have been better served by deploying PSP troopers to less-active districts, and temporarily re-deploying its own officers from those areas to assist in policing hot spots across the city to account for the PSP’s lack of experience in urban policing.
- The use of Highway Patrol in this initiative, without accounting for and acknowledging the unit’s historical reputation in Philadelphia was unwise. CPOC voices this concern as many Philadelphia communities have a shared experience of aggressive policing from the highway patrol unit, including a history of over policing black and brown drivers. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with this reputation, if the community doesn’t trust the unit and operation, it is much harder to succeed.
PPD Response to CPOC’s Inquiry
CPOC reached out to PPD command staff to provide answers and information about the operation’s specifics and the Department provided additional insight into Operation Trigger Lock but did not fully address all the Commission’s concerns.
On behalf of the Commission and concerned residents, CPOC made the following inquiries to PPD and received the following responses:
CPOC requested a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or Mutual Aid Agreement in place for Operation Trigger Lock: This request was made so the Commission could better understand the full scope of the operation, including the roles, responsibilities, and standards, that will drive PPD and PSP operations. PPD command staff informed CPOC that no such documentation exists. CPOC is concerned that this potential lack of documentation may hinder any effective oversight or accountability for officers acting in partnership with PSP personnel.
CPOC inquired whether PSP officers would operate in agreement with the City’s Mayoral Executive Orders, such as the Driving Equity Bill: PPD command staff confirmed that, as state law supersedes local law, PSP troopers are not beholden to PPD directives, local ordinances, or the Mayor’s Executive Orders when operating in any capacity in Philadelphia and that the Driving Equity Bill places no restrictions on law enforcement entities with the legal jurisdiction to conduct vehicle stops within Philadelphia.
While PPD confirmed PPD officers working with PSP troopers are still expected to abide by all Executive Orders, PPD Directives, and local ordinances, the Department did not specify which circumstances would dictate whether the PPD officer or PSP trooper would lead law enforcement interactions with Philadelphia residents. PPD stated that when operating in pairs, the lead or arresting officer (either PSP or PPD) would be determined by the circumstances of the arrest but gave no further clarity.
CPOC asked PPD to confirm where individuals arrested by PSP will be processed and held: According to PPD, all gun arrests made by Operation Trigger Lock will be processed under PSP protocols at the PSP Belmont Barracks, located at 2201 Belmont Ave, Philadelphia PA, 19131. Processing of other arrests will be determined by a case-by-case basis.
CPOC requested data of results from previous partnerships between PPD and PSP, including a similar Operation that occurred in 2007: The PPD does not have this data on file. According to the Department, they did not have computer records in 2007 and previous Trigger Lock partnerships have past the standard record retention period for paper records. Accessing this data would aid CPOC in conducting a thorough analysis of the operation in comparing this summer’s outcomes to previous partnerships with PSP, but more importantly, would also have guided the Department in decision-making for this latest operation.
What are the defined goals and outcomes for Operation Trigger Lock, and how will PPD & PSP measure success? Success will be measured by seeing a reduction in the instances of violent crime taking place in targeted areas, as well as creating a better sense of public safety for residents and business owners in those areas. PPD informed CPOC it will utilize data related to requests for police services, though the Department did not specify how they intend to collect and analyze specific metrics.
Will Operation Trigger Lock be extended beyond August and if so, what scenarios could be considered a reason for the extension? There is a possibility to extend the operation beyond August and doing so is dependent upon factors such as the operation’s success, and the Pennsylvania State Police’s budget. PSP funding was the primary factor in determining the original timeline of the program running into August.
CPOC requested information on how the PPD will determine where to deploy pairs of PSP and PPD officers during the operation. Teams will be strategically deployed to the most challenged areas based on current and evolving data but offered no further explanation. The Department will make data driven decisions, evaluating and redeploying PPD/PSP pairs to additional locations throughout the city during the operation.
Will Operation Trigger Lock allow the PPD access to additional resources, such as PSP investigative resources to assist in clearing shootings quicker, or is the initiative limited to patrolling neighborhoods? Aside from the additional personnel provided to patrol operations, this partnership will allow both agencies will be able to seamlessly share intelligence and other resources throughout the duration of the operation. The PPD did not specify any further as to what additional resources the PSP will be able to provide.
As CPOC receives more information regarding Operation Trigger Lock, the Commission will continue to provide information to the residents of Philadelphia. A collaborative working relationship between agencies will improve policing for all citizens of Philadelphia. CPOC intends to conduct a thorough review of Operation Trigger Lock by collecting and analyzing data on the operation’s outcomes to influence future policy on partnerships with outside agencies.
CPOC encourages all residents to contact CPOC with any questions or concerns. Inquiries can be made through CPOC’s website https://www.phila.gov/departments/citizens-police-oversight-commission/ or by phone, at (215) 685-0891.