Letters

Posted: November 25, 1993

A CITY POLICE CAPTAIN TRACES THE ROOTS OF VIOLENCE

It happened once again. It has happened 41 times since I joined the Police Department in 1971. I have no doubt that it will continue to happen again and again. The "it" to which I refer is the violent death of a Philadelphia police officer.

But this letter is not about the number of police officers working the street. It is not about a civilian review board to oversee police actions. It's not about gun control or the prison cap and it's not about the death penalty.

This is about the degeneration of a society. Our society. Look around; are you satisfied with what you see? We have metal detectors at high schools; churches are now subject to crime, and our senior citizens are considered ''easy prey" by the thugs who roam our streets. Violence and murder are glamorized in movies, on television and during the nightly newscasts.

What are we going to do about this situation? Are we going to wait for ''someone," "somewhere" to provide us with the answer? I hope not,

because looking to others for the answers is part of the problem that we are facing.

I certainly do not have all the answers, but here are a few suggestions: Let's begin right now to take responsibility for our own actions. Parent your children; don't expect a schoolteacher to do this for you.

Teach respect, respect for family members, neighbors and, yes, even strangers. Treat others as you expect to be treated. Begin to end this senseless but ongoing violence now.

Capt. William Markert

Commanding Officer

23d District

Philadelphia

CRIMINALS, NOT GUNS . . .

The Inquirer has once again exploited a tragedy to perpetuate a lie. Your recent editorial, "Violent night," claims that "the men and women of law enforcement . . . are . . . staunch advocates of handgun controls." The police groups that favor gun control have never polled their members, so how can they speak for the average officer? Last summer, the Southern States Police Benevolent Association found out how real cops view the gun-control issue.

The Southern States PBA found that 96 percent of the officers agreed that people should have the right to own a gun for self-protection. Eighty-six percent felt that waiting periods such as the Brady bill only affect law- abiding citizens. Only 25 percent believed that stricter handgun laws would reduce violent crime. As experienced street cops, these officers understand that criminals, not guns, are responsible for handgun violence.

The truth is that Officer Stephen Dmytryk was murdered by a violent repeat- offender. No gun law could have prevented this senseless act. Until we get serious about keeping violent criminals off the streets, the carnage will continue.

Edwin H. Hopton

CAMERA'S WATCHFUL EYE

Videotaping defendants' statements to the police is a long-overdue necessity. It should save the city millions in wasted courtroom time, attorney fees and other costs related to arguing whether or not a defendant said what the police allege was said. The additional costs of the Vivian King murder trial contesting the validity of her confession would cover the costs of equipment.

I have evaluated over 6,000 defendants charged with crime in the last 23 years as a psychiatric consultant to the Defenders Association of Philadelphia. I have interviewed psychotic individuals whom I could not understand, but the police, using mysterious techniques, are apparently able to get coherent signed statements. I wonder how.

Videotaping would prove police honesty and accuracy. Videotaping would stop defendants such as Ms. King from claiming they were "forced" into making statements. Videotaping would help the prosecution as often as it would the defense.

Why would the police not want such equipment? Judges have told me that the police need protection from such scrutiny in order to obtain information vital to prosecution. That supports the very argument that the defendant was coerced or badgered by extremely long interrogations, or by other actions that need to remain hidden. When it takes 16 hours to get a statement of guilt, that procedure should be on videotape, too.

The Inquirer was directly responsible for the cessation of Philadelphia police "beating" confessions from defendants. Investigative reports exposed that behavior, and the system changed. I implore you to begin an investigative series on this issue.

Perry A. Berman, M. D.

Merion

NO FREE PHILADELPHIA CULTURE?

I recently took an out-of-town friend to some of Philadelphia's most beautiful sights. Bragging that you don't need a lot of money to take advantage of the city's major attractions, we set out to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts on Cherry Street.

All museums used to have at least one periodic day, free of admission charges. Saturday was the Academy's, so we planned our schedule accordingly. On the way, I was extolling our city as an excellent example of a place where children, poor poets, students and others could get a cultural education, not only free of charge, but also on their own and at their own pace.

I was sorely disappointed when the guard informed us that " . . . there's no free lunch here anymore."

John Mangano

DEPRESSING THE VOTE IS NOTHING NEW

The issue of depressing the vote is not new. Our system makes it difficult for people to register to vote through a variety of tactics. The Republicans especially oppose any reform that would make it easier for both black and white poor people, especially in urban areas, to register to vote.

Several elections ago, my husband and I registered voters, as volunteers, in several locations, among which were a soup kitchen and the welfare office in the city of Trenton. The election board would not allow the homeless to register, and used the tactic of refusing to allow them to use the address of the shelters as their residence.

The election board policy was to issue voting cards to those we registered. Even though we were registering voters long before the deadline, there was a problem in getting the cards issued. We were told that the newly registered voters would be allowed to vote without the card. We discovered after the election that those who had reached their polling places had been turned away.

Many persons refused to register because they had been told, for instance, that they would be called for jury duty. Also, if they had ever been charged or convicted of a crime, they feared not being allowed to vote. The policemen stationed at the polls very obviously intimidated them.

Some potential voters told us that they were afraid that they would not understand the instructions and would not be able to cast their ballots properly. We discovered in Gloucester County that there were no provisions for assisting the blind in casting their ballots.

Our elections are not as free and open as most of us believe. Hopefully, the Whitman-Florio election will alert us to the need to reform our policies.

Lucile Harkness Pfleeger

Glassboro, N.J.

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