The Women’s Law Project would like to express condolences to the family and friends of former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney, and to lift his legacy by highlighting his vital role in reforming police response to victims of sexual assault in Philadelphia.
Every year the Women’s Law Project engages in an unprecedented review of rape and sexual assault complaints at the Philadelphia Police Department’s Special Victims Unit. With our colleagues from Women Organized Against Rape, Support Center for Child Advocates, and Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, we spend several days reviewing hundreds of SVU files, including all unfounded rape complaints and a random sample of open cases, assessing the thoroughness and outcome of the investigation, raising questions, and providing feedback.
We created this citizen and advocate case review, a national best practice now known as the Philadelphia Model, at the invitation of John Timoney, an old-school Irish city cop who one would not think would be especially receptive to having a cadre of feminist attorneys coming in to the station to comb through police records and analyze interrogation transcripts.
The truth is, despite whatever reservations he may have had, Timoney called us asking for help because he knew the public had lost trust in the police department in the wake of an expose that revealed the Philadelphia Police Department had been burying rape complaints. Given the long history of police failure to respond adequately to rape victims, Timoney’s actions showed remarkable insight. Along with the advocate case review, Commissioner Timoney listened respectfully and instituted our recommendations, including a full internal audit of miscoded cases still within the statute of limitations. Although he did not expect to find rapes among the miscoded cases, he did, publicly acknowledged finding them, and offered a public apology for the Department’s mishandling of these cases.
Commissioner Timoney leaves a legacy of promoting proper police practice, accountability, transparency, and community engagement in investigating sex crimes.
We honor his memory.