Showing Philly cops some "love"

Posted: November 18, 2013

ASK DISTRICT Attorney Seth Williams about prosecuting crooked cops and he'll first throw in this disclaimer: The "supermajority" of Philadelphia police officers are honest, hardworking men and women.

Which is true. It just doesn't always seem that way. Not in a city where a police officer has been charged with a crime every three weeks, on average, for the last four years.

Last week, for instance, a lieutenant was charged with aggravated assault for allegedly attacking his girlfriend, a homicide detective was fired amid an investigation into whether he covered up murders, and more than 50 drug convictions were thrown out because they relied on testimony from a veteran narcotics cop who was arrested in an FBI corruption probe.

Then there's YouTube, where recent videos include Philly police officers berating innocent men, ripping down a basketball net, harassing law-abiding gun owners and punching a woman in her face.

It's a major problem, but Rashida Ali-Campbell has a potential solution that is both radical and simple: Maybe we just need to start showing the police some love. A plain old thank-you would be a good start.

Ali-Campbell, executive director of LoveLovingLove, a nonprofit that helps violent children and promotes holistic health and urban sustainability, has been focusing on rewarding the city's good cops, who vastly outnumber the relatively small number of bad cops who make the biggest headlines.

"Positive reinforcement is the best reinforcement," Ali-Campbell said. "If we can show police that the community appreciates the work they do, they will be less likely to be brutal with the citizens in that community."

Ali-Campbell, 36, a former member of the New Black Panther Party in New York City who lives in Yeadon, Delaware County, said she was shocked by a spate of murdered Philadelphia police officers five years ago. She left the party and began working to heal the rift between police and civilians, not just tracking cases of police brutality. Or, as she puts it, "watching with a loving eye, not just waiting for them to f--- something up."

"When police officers started getting killed, I felt that something had to be done almost immediately," she said.

Through Operation Olive Branch, Ali-Campbell's group has been rewarding police annually in districts where the number of complaints have decreased. They've provided free massages, brought in fresh fruit and vegetables, distributed Soyjoy snack bars, and even tried aromatherapy as a stress reliever.

"Our hope is we can get police officers back in sync with the community in a loving way so they're working together to solve murders, and stopping the no-snitching campaign," she said.

The mission wasn't helped by a profanity-laced YouTube video of Officer Philip Nace that went viral last month. Nace is heard screaming at two men during a stop and frisk, calling one a "f---ing dirty ass" and telling the other, "We don't want you here, anyway. All you do is weaken the f---ing country." Neither man was charged with a crime. Nace surfaced the following week in another video that showed him toppling a basketball hoop in North Philadelphia. Residents call him a bully.

"People are really starting to have a disdain for police officers that we feel will cause the rift to get bigger," Ali-Campbell said. "How do you call people for help that you don't trust? And how can you serve a community that doesn't care about you? Those days need to come to an end."

Operation Olive Branch might sound a bit corny to old-school law-and-order types - can you picture the late Frank Rizzo working with an ex-Black Panther talking about love, aromatherapy and soy bars? - but it's garnering praise in law-enforcement circles.

"So many people only want to come and protest and scream through bullhorns, but they're not willing to put in the work, day in, day out, to improve relations," said Williams, who co-signs the program's annual commendation with Ali-Campbell.

This year's commendation was presented Wednesday night to officers in Southwest Philly's 12th District, where complaints against police are down 51 percent from last year, according to district Capt. John Moroney.

"This is like family here," Moroney said of the residents who packed the district headquarters for the monthly community meeting.

The past recipients are North Philadelphia's 22nd District, West Philadelphia's 16th District, and Northeast Philadelphia's 2nd and 15th districts.

"It lets them know there are people that appreciate what they are doing out there," said Moroney, who credited his rank and file with improving relations on the street in a dangerous district.

Kelvyn Anderson, executive director of the Police Advisory Commission, the city's civilian-oversight agency, said the recognition can help boost morale across the department and serve as an example for problem districts.

"The YouTube police-misconduct video of the day can be somewhat demoralizing for the vast majority of officers that work hard and follow the rules," Anderson said. "We need to remind them that we see that and are supporting the officers that are doing the right thing."

Anderson, who lives in the 12th District, said cops there deserve Ali-Campbell's award.

"I can see it personally on the ground. They are doing a pretty good job bringing people to meetings and engaging with them," Anderson said. "It's nothing fancy, just a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude."

Ali-Campbell's LoveLoving-Love is looking for ways to commend police officers more often, to offset the YouTube videos and stories about corrupt cops that can damage public perception. The city has about 6,000 officers, most of whom aren't like that, she said.

"There are good cops in Philadelphia. And if you support the good ones, more good ones will surface," she said. "Say, 'Hi,' to cops when you walk by. Say, 'Thank you.' They have a hard-ass job out there."

On Twitter: @wbender99