DN Editorial: Can't rely on YouTube to police the police

Posted: October 05, 2012

WE HAVE argued many times for an independent authority to provide police oversight and accountability, a body to ensure that police don't abuse their power and that when they do, they are disciplined.

We now have that authority in Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, it's YouTube.

The shocking sidewalk slam to Aida Guzman by Lt. Jonathan Josey at Sunday's Puerto Rican Day parade was captured on video, posted on YouTube, and as of yesterday had gotten 1,329,847 views.

That means that Josey, who was suspended with intent to fire by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey on Wednesday, not only hit a woman, but also sucker-punched the entire city and the Police Department in front of the world.

Ramsey did take prompt action in suspending Josey.

Mayor Nutter made a public apology to Guzman on Thursday.

Neither is enough.

Not in a city with our history of police misconduct, corruption and arrests.

We support the police. But the power they have to detain, arrest, use force over and even kill citizens on behalf of the state is like no other set of powers afforded any other group, including the military. In exchange for that power, police must be open to scrutiny and questions. They need to be accountable for their actions. That doesn't happen without both internal and external checks and balances.

The current Police Advisory Commission has been a well-intentioned but ultimately toothless agency that has few resources and no authority. In the past few years, they have received more than 100 complaints against police annually. The Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau gets 650-800 per year.

But can citizens be sure that justice is being done and their complaints are heard?

Many experts question any police department's ability to police itself, citing the insularity and mistrust of outsiders that mark many police departments. We also question how any police department can be effective if citizens mistrust it.

And frankly, the Fraternal Order of Police's response to Josey's firing doesn't do much to raise that trust. FOP president John McNesby said of the suspension: "It sends a a bad message to cops on the street: 'Be careful out there because the city may not have your back.' "

Note to McNesby: That's exactly the message we want to send. The police should be careful out there, and think before they sucker-punch an innocent citizen.

Here's one change that should be considered immediately: Internal Affairs should be posting data online on all complaints received, as well as their disposition.

Nutter should have apologized to Guzman not just for Josey's actions, but also for leading a city that doesn't seem to see the need for stronger police accountability. The message being sent to citizens is, "Make sure you carry a cellphone just in case you need to catch a police officer beating up someone. And if you want to get our attention, make sure you post it on YouTube."

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