What's with all the badly behaving cops in Philly?

Thursday's People Paper cover, starring Officer Philip Nace.
Thursday's People Paper cover, starring Officer Philip Nace.
Posted: October 23, 2013

WHEN I SAW Thursday's Page 1 picture showing Philadelphia Police Officer Philip Nace toppling a kids' basketball backboard in North Philadelphia, it reminded me of Sgt. Kovacs in the South Bronx.

More than bullies with badges - from what I've read about Nace, and what I know of Kovacs - they are just mean.

Kovacs was the terror on wheels of the 41st Precinct - Fort Apache - where I grew up. He'd prowl the streets of the tenement district, a place of close scrapes and fire escapes, in his turtle-shaped squad car looking for imagined trouble. If he caught us playing stickball in the street - we had no playgrounds - he'd grab the stick, slide it into a sewer and snap it in half, then laugh. If three of us were standing - in front of our own apartment building - he'd growl, "Move on, or I'll run you in."

Move on to where?

Despite this blue-jacketed hump, I remain reflexively pro-cop, just as I am pro-union.

That's my starting point, but it presupposes that it's a good cop, a good union. I know there are bad ones.

Now it's like Bad Cop du Jour. We constantly report crimes by police, some so petty - shoplifting? - it staggers me that a cop would crash a career and break an oath for bupkus.

Are there more bad cops today than in the past, or is there just better reporting of something that has existed forever? Many people, especially minorities, think it's the latter.

The Police Department needs to "develop a better system of addressing the character flaws of some of these so-called officers" and rid itself "of those elements that taint the good," says Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn.

Commissioner Charles Ramsey told me that he doesn't have numbers to show if the problem is worse today than when he was coming up. But in his nearly six years here, he has aggressively gone after corruption and misconduct.

Want misconduct? Revisit the Inquirer's series starting in 1995 exposing the maggots in the 39th District in North Philadelphia. Six officers were prosecuted.

The Daily News' Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for their 10-month series, Tainted Justice, exposing cops neck-deep in theft, filing fraudulent warrants, and, in one case, sexual assault.

In April 2010, 21-year veteran Robert Ralston shot himself in the shoulder and claimed that a black man did it, setting off a massive manhunt. Granted immunity, he later confessed that he had lied, leading to claims of racism.

A sickening lowlight came in 2011 when Frank Tepper was convicted of the first-degree murder of a neighbor. He got life.

In March 2012, Keith Corley was found guilty of indecent exposure and official repression related to allegedly raping a woman in his police car while on duty.

In May 2013, 24-year veteran Jeffrey Walker was arrested for ripping off drug dealers.

A year ago, Lt. Jonathan Josey was fired (and later reinstated by an arbitrator) for apparently sucker-punching a woman during a Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Those offenses make alleged bullying and foulmouthed cursing by Nace, the YouTube cop of the 25th District, seem like a Halloween prank, but it's not. Like my old pal Kovacs, he seems to have "issues."

Are these just bad apples, or the whole freaking barrel? "When citizens get arrested, most folks don't even know about it," Ramsey said. "When it happens to a cop, everybody knows."

Since Jan. 1, 2012, 26 of Philly's Finest have been charged with crimes.

Are the cops out of control? Are today's recruiting standards too low? Are recruits taught courtesy, ethics and respect for citizens? Are they taught that their high-minded motto, "Honor, Service, Integrity," actually means something?

If I, someone reflexively pro-cop, am asking these questions, what are you thinking?


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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