Police bigwigs embarrassing the department

Lt. Ray Evers
Lt. Ray Evers
Posted: August 09, 2012

IT'S NOT JUST any old job, being a cop.

The entrance to Police Headquarters offers a simple reminder of this fact. The words "Honor" and "Integrity" loom large outside, underscoring the values police officers are supposed to embody.

But in one embarrassing episode after another, the behavior of some members of the Philadelphia Police Department has made a mockery of those lofty ideals.

Since 2009, 47 Philly cops have been arrested. The majority have been rank-and-file cops who were locked up for boneheaded offenses — theft, drug dealing, assault.

Lately, however, the negative headlines have been about investigations of some of the department's top brass, men and women on whom Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey relies to set an example for younger officers.

The list reads like a who's who of police bigwigs:

Inspector Jerrold Bates, who recently worked in Internal Affairs, is under investigation because a former aide, Keisha Johnson, has accused him of sexually harassing her for several years.

Last month, the D aily News reported that another police inspector, Aaron Horne, was being investigated by Internal Affairs over allegations that Horne ordered patrol cops to destroy records after the grandson of a retired captain was shot with a Taser and arrested in Oak Lane in March.

Lt. Aisha Perry, who's been on desk duty for the past year because of allegations that she and another cop stole public utilities, attracted the interest of Internal Affairs again when a friend drowned accidentally in her backyard pool on July 5.

Police sources have said Perry called 9-1-1 only after she contacted a few other people, including a police captain.

In June, police spokesman Lt. Ray Evers claimed he was attacked at a bar in Avalon, N.J., for no reason. But an Avalon detective said surveillance footage and interviews with bar employees proved otherwise, only to have Evers angrily ask him where his sense of police "brotherhood" was.

Deputy Commissioner William Blackburn was accused in a federal lawsuit in May of stalking and sexually harassing Debra Frazier, a narcotics captain.

That same month, two veteran cops filed a federal lawsuit that accused Blackburn, Chief Inspector Evelyn Heath and Lt. Vince Testa of orchestrating a coverup of a theft scandal in the department's Firearms Identification Unit.

Taken together, many wonder what the cases say about the state of the department when it seems as if a month can't pass without another ugly story coming to light.

"I think it's a huge problem, with respect to those upper-level guys," said Kelvyn Anderson, the interim executive director of the Police Advisory Commission.

"If I'm Ramsey, what do you do to regain the public's confidence? How do you reinstall confidence in the troops when you have allegations against people that far up the chain of command?"

Anderson said he wonders how "the average officer on the street who's trying to do the right thing" is affected by the steady stream of allegations against members of the top brass.

Whenever scandals emerge, Ramsey reiterates his commitment to weeding out corrupt cops, to doing thorough investigations and letting the chips fall where they may, no matter the rank of a cop who's accused of wrongdoing.

"Look, none of this stuff is pleasant to deal with," he said during a recent interview with the People Paper.

"I'm not proud of the fact that there's been a spike [in the number of arrested cops], but I'm proud of the fact that we're aggressively going after officers who are not living up to the oath they took."

But why is corruption seemingly so commonplace among those who are supposed to uphold the law, from beat cops to top commanders?

"Culture plays into it a lot," said Philip Matthew Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University who worked as a cop in New Hampshire in the mid- to late 1980s.

"There's a longstanding rule that you don't rat out another cop. You learn to rationalize [criminal behavior]."

Stinson and a team of researchers at the Ohio-based university received a two-year grant this year from the U.S. Department of Justice to study police-involved crime on a national level.

The researchers are analyzing the cases of more than 5,700 cops who have been arrested nationwide since 2005, in an attempt to understand why some go bad.

Stinson said that in cities like Philadelphia, where strong collective-bargaining agreements make it difficult for a commissioner to fire an officer, some cops develop a sense of being above the law.

The "socialization of police recruits" might also be problematic, he said.

"They get to a point, three or four years into their careers, where they develop an ‘us versus them' mentality," Stinson said.

"You just do not turn in another officer."  

Contact David Gambacorta at 215-854-5994 or gambacd@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @dgambacorta.

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