Rogue cop proof that department needs more fire power

James Harris and his lawyer, Brian Humble (left) near the area in Fairmount Park where Harris says a Philadelphia cop forced him to perform oral sex. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
James Harris and his lawyer, Brian Humble (left) near the area in Fairmount Park where Harris says a Philadelphia cop forced him to perform oral sex. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: May 04, 2012

THE PHILADELPHIA Parking Authority is spotlighted in an A&E cable TV show titled “Parking Wars.” If A&E were to do one on the Philadelphia Police Department, I suggest the title “Fireproof.”

Just what do you have to do to get yourself fired, if you’re a Philadelphia cop? Just how bad to the bone must you be?

The latest awful example is Officer Michael Paige, 45, driving a patrol car marked with the words “Honor, Service, Integrity” — the Philly cops motto — but his honor is besmirched, his service suspect, his integrity questioned.

But before laying out the outrageous specifics of Paige’s activities, remember that police commissioners have complained about what they call a worse than arbitrary arbitration process that puts bad apples — cops accused of wrongdoing — back in the barrel.

Arbitration is separate from the judicial system, and arbitrators have wide latitude — too wide, some believe, and sometimes return to the force officers accused of abusing the very taxpayers who pay their salary.

As to Paige, according to Dana DiFilippo’s detailed account in Thursday’s Daily News, in 2007 he forced James Harris, then 29, into his marked police car in Fairmount Park and demanded that Harris perform oral sex on him.

Harris reported the incident. After an investigation, then-Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson fired Paige, who reportedly had several other black marks in his service jacket, from sleeping on duty to lying to investigators delving into a case of police misconduct.

In the Harris case, he was also charged with a crime, but found not guilty even though DNA evidence proved there had been sexual contact between accused and accuser. The judge believed the contact was consensual. An arbitrator then returned Paige to duty.

Consensual? While in uniform, on duty and in a police car? Now that I’ve teed up the ball, let me invite Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to pick up a four iron.

“He admits having sex on duty in a police car, it doesn’t matter if it’s consensual or not, “ roared Ramsey when I reached him Thursday afternoon. “Have consensual sex at home, don’t have consensual sex in my car!”

Now, to protect himself from future zany arbitrators, Ramsey’s rewriting the police code of conduct to specifically ban sex while on duty. “Why should I have to put it in there?” he asks. “It’s common sense.”

Which is all too uncommon, we know.

But arbitration is necessary in many cases, insisted FOP vice president John McGrody, who handles labor relations for the police union.

In this case, “I recall the arbitrator had severe reservations about the credibility of the witness who testified,” McGrody said. The arbitrator did not absolve Paige from all guilt, felt that he should be penalized but not fired. Paige got a 30-day suspension.

McGrody was satisfied with the outcome, as you would expect. His side won.

I can’t say the same for me, or for former Commissioner Johnson.

“A civilian or a fellow officer could have needed help at the time,” Johnson told me.

We are entitled to have higher standards for cops than civilians. We entrust cops with the right to arrest, the right to detain and, when necessary, to take a life.

I don’t feel safer knowing Paige is patrolling our streets. Do you?

Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. Join Stu on Facebook. For recent columns: www.philly.com/Byko.

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