Private Eyes

Phila. Police Department needs more outside scrutiny

Posted: August 31, 2012

THIS WEEK, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey hired an outside law firm to investigate Inspector Jerrold Bates, a high-ranking superintendent in the police's Internal Affairs Bureau, following reports in the Daily News. This comes a month after the director of the Police Advisory Commission, the civilian oversight board, was removed from his job over lagging investigations.

This may not be the nadir of police oversight in the city.

But it's close.

Ramsey has continually said he's commited to ferreting out corruption among the ranks; he has added 26 officers to Internal Affairs and added training and investigations.

And you could say that the 47 police officers arrested since 2009 is a sign that the system is working to identify bad apples. (We'd be more likely to file that under "cold comfort.")

But the current investigation of Bates underscores the fact that just adding bodies to a department - even a department that's designed to police the police - is not nearly enough.

Every police department in this country, especially one in a city the size of ours, needs an outside body with authority to provide accountability and oversight. A higher authority who can investigate citizen complaints as well as review department policies and procedures should be seen as an asset to the department - and a necessity for maintaining the public trust in the police.

For years, now, we have advocated for stronger oversight and an accountability body with teeth. The PAC is underfunded and lacks authority. The city's position of public-safety integrity officer is vacant, with no immediate plans to fill it. The Office of Integrity and Accountability, dissolved under Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, was a better model: an independent office that worked with the department to identify trends in policing, and made recommendations for strengthening the department.

By definition, police oversight and accountability must be independent of the department. This is a job for Mayor Nutter.

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