Ramsey vows to weed out bad officers from Philadelphia police

Posted: July 31, 2010

In the aftermath of the Philadelphia Police Department's latest scandal - the arrest of a 26-year veteran on charges of stealing cash from a bar - few would argue with Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey's announcement Friday that the department needs to find a way to weed out corrupt officers.

Ramsey's statement followed the filing of charges Friday against Officer Kenneth Crockett, accused of stealing $825 from Pat's Cafe in Frankford while investigating a possible burglary nearby.

Eleven officers have been arrested since March 2009, including two - Rudolph Gary Jr. and Frank Tepper - on murder charges. Both are accused of fatally shooting people during off-duty confrontations.

This month, three officers were indicted on federal charges of stealing heroin from a drug dealer and giving it to an undercover agent in a sting operation. A week later, a former officer was convicted in a plot to rob a drug dealer of cocaine.

Another officer was fired this year after fabricating a story about being shot by a black man. The officer later admitted that he shot himself.

Ramsey said Friday he was drawing up a plan to present to Mayor Nutter for rooting out the bad officers who tarnish the work of good ones.

"We have too many guys who on occasion feel they have special privileges as police officers. Well, they don't," Ramsey said. "It's a few people, not the majority of people. But the few affect the many."

Devising such a plan won't be easy, police and criminology experts said. There is no way to predict what leads a police officer with a clean background to start breaking rules. Some officers find that misbehavior is condoned or encouraged by their colleagues. Many officers are unwilling to report police corruption, particularly if the offender is a friend or superior.

"For most police officers, they started out wanting to help people," said Rich Jarc, executive director of the Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles nonprofit that educates police departments on ethics. "But over time, some can get hardened. So when they take a bend off the straight and narrow, they don't see it as a big deal, because they've seen so many other worse things."

Crockett, 56, has been charged with first-degree misdemeanor counts of theft and receiving stolen property. He was committed involuntarily to a mental institution early Friday after learning he would be charged, District Attorney Seth Williams said, because his family feared he "was a danger to himself."

Crockett has been suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss.

Two other officers who were in Pat's Cafe early Tuesday with Crockett have been cleared of wrongdoing. They had nothing to do with the alleged theft and were shocked when it was reported the next day, Williams and Ramsey said.

Ramsey has said attracting stronger recruits is a priority. Starting in 2012, he will require officers to be at least 21 and to have three years of driving and two years of college classes under their belts. Standards now allow 19-year-olds with no college education to join the academy.

New recruits receive at least 15 hours of ethics training at the academy, said Inspector Sonia Velazquez, head of the unit that investigates recruits' backgrounds.

They go through extensive background checks, including credit histories, driving records, psychological tests, and interviews with relatives and neighbors.

"We're looking at everything about that person up to that point in time, and we're very thorough," she said. "But sometimes a person's character or behavior changes."

Jerry Ratcliffe, a criminal justice professor at Temple University, said that in addition to looking at ways to prevent corruption, the department should evaluate how it investigates corruption.

"The difficulty for any police department is that you can't actively discipline someone until they've been found to do something wrong," he said. "So it's hard to be proactive."

Jarc, of the Josephson Institute, said many young police officers in particular are hesitant to report inappropriate behavior.

"You're dealing with a culture where 'don't rat on your buddy' is a strong thread," he said. "People start off in a department and they want to get along with everyone. There's a lot of pressure to look the other way."

Ratcliffe said Ramsey's administration should also work with the police union. Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 recently distanced itself from the officers involved with some of the department's high-profile scandals, a signal that the union is not willing to provide unwavering support.

"Until recently, the general impression for many people was that the union was there for all officers," Ratcliffe said. "A more effective strategy might be for the FOP to say they are there for the good officers."

FOP president John McNesby agreed and said he was looking forward to hearing more about Ramsey's plan.

"We're with the cops; we're not with the criminals," he said. "If you're stealing, if you're dealing drugs, we're not going to stand behind you. You're on your own."


Contact staff writer Allison Steele at 215-854-2641 or asteele@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Joseph A. Gambardello contributed to this article.

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