Bullies with a badge

Some cops just don't deal with stress nicely

Posted: October 14, 2013

I DON'T KNOW when Philip Nace became a Philadelphia police officer. But I have to believe, when he swore an oath to protect and serve, that he didn't imagine his future would include seeing his scowling red face on a Daily News cover about bully cops.

But there he was, in yesterday's story by Bill Bender about a stop and frisk. Nace and another cop harangued two pedestrians in the 25th District after the men had - sigh - said hello to a third man unidentified on the street.

To write the story, Bender didn't need to rely on anyone's memories of what went down. The bad behavior was recorded in a 16-minute video, so the cops' caveman bluster - which has garnered more than 64,000 YouTube hits - is audible in all its expletive-laden glory.

I won't recap everything that Nace and his partner (as yet unnamed) said and did. You can see and hear it for yourself at PhillyDailyNews.com/frisk (promo code: P19C). But their breathtaking contempt for the men they stopped hit its nadir when Nace snarled to one of them, "We don't want you here, anyway. All you do is weaken the f---ing country."

"How do I weaken the country? By working?" the man asked.

"No, freeloading," Nace said.

When the man said he's a server at a country club, Nace responded, "Server. Serving weed?"

Officer Congeniality he's not.

The incident is being investigated by Internal Affairs. No matter the results, I doubt we'll get answers to the bigger question: When did Nace, a 46-year-old department veteran, and the other officer become so comfortable acting like schoolyard bullies?

Did they enter the Philadelphia Police Academy that way? Or did the job grind them down to bitter burnouts who say things like, "Don't come to f---ing Philadelphia. Stay in Jersey," to the people unlucky enough to meet them on patrol?

Looking for perspective, I called Shane Moes, who sees firsthand what long-term job stress can do to some police officers, especially those working in high-crime cities like ours.

Moes is director of specialty programs at the Livengrin Foundation for Addiction Recovery in Bensalem, where he oversees the organization's First Responder Addiction Treatment program. It helps cops, firefighters, medics and soldiers deal with drug and alcohol addiction.

"The amount of trauma that officers are exposed to is huge, but police culture doesn't support healthy coping," whether a cop is an addict or not, said Moes.

"Police officers essentially 'live' and interact in a world that no one else wants to be in," he said. "They see the worst part of humanity, and it can erode their optimism, sense of joy and hope."

And they can begin to act in ways, on the job, that would never be acceptable in life outside the world of policing.

Moes says that burnout, and the terrible behaviors that can accompany it, are at their worst in big cities like ours, where lack of resources stretches police departments thin, exacerbating pressures cops already feel on the street.

"The officers who fare best are those who found the right kind of mentors, early in their career," said Moes. "They need support systems. They need to know their mentors have their back. But the mentors need to be people with healthy coping mechanisms."

A lot of this "understanding" talk makes my friend "Dave," a veteran Philly cop who wants to be anonymous in this column, heave a sigh of disgust. He's seen the Nace video and has choice words for the officers in them:

"They're Neanderthals," he said. "I see their type all the time on the job. They've got a chip on their shoulder.

"Look, I'm not saying the 25th is easy. It's a nightmare," said Dave, a veteran who has worked in Philly's most violent neighborhoods. "We're not the compassion police. A lot of the guys we deal with are real knuckleheads. But those cops acted like they were intercepting a Mexican drug cartel."

At every roll call, he says, his own sergeant stresses professional comportment on the street, tells his officers not to curse or lose their cool.

"But we still have horses' asses who never get it," he said. "They make all of us look bad. Having one of them on patrol is bad enough. Having two of them is like an army. I do whatever I can to avoid them. They're idiots."

Maybe they shouldn't be on the streets at all. To paraphrase Nace himself, "They weaken the f---ing force."


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

Columns: ph.ly/Ronnie

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