PHILADELPHIA, PA – A private, nonprofit foundation that has provided equipment and resources to the Philadelphia Police Department has caught the attention of activists, who are seeking to both publicly and privately “defund the police” across the nation.
The Philadelphia Police Foundation has raised private funds since 1998 to provide important support and resources to the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD). As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose board is made up entirely of volunteers who give their time, funds and talent, the foundation helps to fill the financial gaps of the police department.
Several of Philadelphia’s biggest companies and universities have supported the nonprofit organization, and now protesters are pressuring those who donated money or equipment to cut ties with the foundation.
Critics of police foundations claim private groups can buy equipment, including weapons, with little oversight and allow big corporations to influence the police because sometimes departments purchase products from companies that have donated to law enforcement agencies.
— The Temple News (@TheTempleNews) June 26, 2020
Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, a good government group in New York said:
“No one really knows what’s going on. The public needs to know that these contributions are being made voluntarily and have no bearing on contracting decisions.”
Both the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University withdrew their funding from the Philadelphia Police Foundation amid concerns from students, faculty and protesters about police brutality.
The University of Pennsylvania announced last month that it had commissioned a review of its police department and would withdraw funding to the city police foundation.
While praising its own campus police department, one of the largest in the country, Penn leaders said they recognize the need for a review:
University President Amy Gutmann, and other Penn leaders, said:
“We are committed to ensuring that our DPS professionals grow, evolve, and change to meet the needs of the community they serve.”
Penn called the review independent, but it will be conducted by a center within its law school, the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, which conducts reviews of police procedures and puts out research “designed to prevent errors in the criminal justice system.”
While people in the community are working to #DefundThePolice corporations like @comcast and @Wawa are buying them assault rifles, drones and more through the Philadelphia Police Foundation. Thanks to our friends @twittlesis for shining a light on this 🕵️https://t.co/oNZS5WSqSM
— Amistad Law Project (@AmistadLaw) July 19, 2020
The university also said it, along with Penn Medicine, would no longer buy tickets to attend annual fundraising events held by the foundation.
Temple University president Richard M. Englert said in a brief statement:
“In the past, Temple has provided a small amount of support to the Philadelphia Police Foundation through charitable donations. Upon review and community input, we have decided that the university will no longer provide this support.”
Instead, Temple will spend the money on social justice programs at the school, he said.
Quinn Litsinger, 20, a rising junior and student government president at Temple, said:
“We are very excited, very proud, that our university decided to take this step. The fight definitely isn’t over, but this is a huge step in the right direction.”
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Maureen S. Rush, president of the police foundation and also vice president of public safety at Penn, declined to comment on the withdrawals. However, the foundation has raised money for equipment, technology and training for the police over the years.
Last year alone, the foundation provided about $500,000 for ballistic helmets for the SWAT team; anti-bias training for police cadets at the Holocaust Museum in Washington; canine bulletproof vests; improved saddle padding for horses in the mounted unit; funding for a drone program; and renovations to the 18th Police District and Southwest Division buildings at 55th and Pine Streets, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Proponents of police foundations say they have become indispensable in an era of tightening budgets, helping police to acquire specialized equipment and training needed to combat modern crime.
Steve Soboroff, a businessman who is president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the LAPD’s policies and operations, said:
“There’s very little discretionary money for the department. A grant application to the foundation cuts all the red tape, or almost all of the red tape.”
The Philadelphia Police Foundation released a statement and explained that many corporations, private foundations and individuals share its fundraising mission to support police and alleviate pressure on the city government to find ways to raise funds:
“Many of our donors allocate and restrict their gifts to specific projects and initiatives.
“As a result of our fundraising efforts, every dollar designated for the PPD is a dollar that the City does not have to expend on the police department which can then be reallocated to other crucial needs within the community.
“As an example, because of our commitment to extensive funding of training needs of the Philadelphia Police, we were asked by then-commissioner Charles Ramsey to fund an advanced anti-bias training program (not otherwise covered in the City of Philadelphia’s budget).”
In order to protect donors, staffers and board members from harassment by protesters, the foundation removed some information from its website:
“While we are very proud of our work and support of the PPD, recently our board members, staff and donors were targeted, threatened and harassed online by groups and individuals during the ongoing unrest in the City.
“Thus, as a precaution for their safety, we made an internal decision last month to streamline the information on our website.”
Some of the nation’s largest companies have helped police foundations raise money in major cities from New York to Seattle, including Amazon, Coca Cola, and Goldman Sachs, according to the Public Accountability Initiative report.
Past supporters of the Philadelphia Police Foundation have included Wawa, Independence Blue Cross, Comcast, Brandywine Realty Trust and television news station 6ABC, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Inquirer used Internet Archive to search for deleted web pages that showed the names of “partners,” “sponsors” and “donors” of the foundation:
“For example, a deleted webpage called Wawa a ‘partner,’ and the convenience store chain said it donated $50,000 to the foundation last year. Independence Blue Cross was identified as a partner and a sponsor of a 2018 gala, and donated $100,000 in 2014 to pay for bulletproof vests. In 2010, Comcast donated $20,000 and gave $60,000 worth of radio advertising, and one of its employees sits on the foundation’s board, according to deleted webpages.”
Other companies or universities listed as foundation partners, event sponsors or having employees as board members include Drexel University, Thomas Jefferson University, WSFS Bank and 7-Eleven, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Wawa spokesperson Lori Bruce said the company supported the foundation’s efforts to enhance police-community relations, and Comcast acknowledged its previous donations, but said it doesn’t have an ongoing program in place to fund the foundation.
Everett Gillison, who oversaw public safety and served as chief of staff under former Mayor Michael Nutter, said:
“[The foundation provides] money and support for different things that the police could not necessarily do themselves because they were part of city government. It’s not a secretive organization by any stretch of the imagination.”
Some of the biggest backers of police foundations are financial institutions, including public banks that millions of people do business with, including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and BlackRock, according to LittleSis, a grassroots watchdog network:
“Regional banks are also major backers of police foundations. SunTrust Bank, based in Atlanta, recently gave $3 million to the Atlanta Police Foundation. Commerce Bank of Washington is a partner and donor to the Seattle Police Foundation, and the bank’s CEO sits on the executive committee of the Seattle Police Foundation’s board.
“Moreover, private equity money also makes its way into police foundation coffers – for example, Cary Kleinman, managing director and in-house counsel for Oaktree Capital, a major Puerto Rico debt profiteer, supports the Los Angeles Police Foundation.
“Alan Batkin, a senior advisor to an Oaktree Capital distressed debt fund, is a member of the New York City Police Foundation board of trustees.”
The retail and food industries are also supporters of police foundations and include Target, Starbucks, Walmart, Meijer Supermarkets and Dave’s Supermarket, according to LittleSis.
Technology and communication companies that support police foundations include Motorola, Verizon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Viacom and AT&T.
Various fossil fuel and utility companies also support police foundations, such as Chevron, DTE Energy, Marathon Petroleum, Hilcorp Energy, Halliburton, Georgia Power and Energy Transfer Partners.
Several sports organizations are also big supporters:
“In Detroit, for example, the NFL’s Lions, NBA’s Pistons, and MLB’s Tigers each have a representative on the Detroit Public Safety Foundation board of trustees.
“The Lions and the Pistons are both sponsors of the foundation’s fundraising events. The Director for Security for the MLB’s Seattle Mariners sits on the board of the Seattle Police Foundation, and the Mariners and the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks donate to the foundation.
“The MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers each have a representative on the board of the Tampa Bay Area Chiefs of Police Association. The NBA’s Dallas Mavericks are corporal-level sponsors of the Friends of the Dallas Police.” Scott Wilpon of the Wilpon Family, owners of the NY Mets, sits on the NYC Police Foundation board of trustees.”
If protesters are complaining that police budgets are bloated and taking away from black and brown communities, then why do police foundations exist and have such immense support?
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Author: Gloria Weg