DN Editorial: PROTRACT & SERVE: FOP's blindered siding with bad cops does the rest of us no favors

Posted: June 11, 2014

PHILADELPHIA'S unemployment rate showed a promising decline recently, and although things could be on an upturn, the long-term health of a big, old city like ours is by no means a sure thing - especially with intractable problems of schools and crime. One worrisome factor behind the city's crime rate is a troubled Police Department. And new evidence of those troubles should raise red flags not just for the city's leadership but for all of us.

According to a recent Daily News report, civil-rights lawsuit settlements reached a new high in 2013 of nearly $20 million to settle 207 claims. The previous year brought more claims, but only $11.6 in payouts. In 2008, the city paid $7.8 million total.

What's most troubling is not just the expense to city taxpayers at a time when we can ill afford extra millions. It is that the trend comes despite a strong leader in Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who presides over a force that includes many good cops. But the value of both is seriously diminished by rogue cops who flout the law, abuse their position, don't play by the rules - and end up staying on the force or getting reinstated after being fired.

The department's history of dysfunction and corruption is legion, a legacy that unfortunately has a powerful enabler in the police union. Time after time, Ramsey has fired cops who end up getting their jobs back, or has been hampered in disciplining rogue cops.

It's impossible to imagine how a leader raises the standards for performance, or cleans out a department beset by years of misbehavior and corruption, when his decisions are routinely overturned. In fact, the Daily News report on civil-rights payouts cited one factor in the high rates of payouts: According to one lawyer, "the failure of the department to follow a strict and non-negotiable discipline process" becomes evidence that is used to win cases against the city.

The maddening thing is that the lack of discipline is not for lack of trying. For example, Ramsey instituted a new disciplinary code that would allow him to punish bad cops. The union filed a complaint with the state's labor-relations board because the new code hadn't been negotiated; the labor board sided with the union. In case after case, arbitrators reinstate fired cops. From 2008 to 2010, 24 fired police officers won their jobs back. The criteria that arbitrators use in their decisions are not so clear, nor are they public.

Criminal charges have been brought against more than 40 cops since 2010. We don't know how many of them remain on the force.

Every single instance of police leadership getting overridden by the union or labor board erodes the standards and quality of the force. That in turn demeans the good cops on the inside, and discourages good potential cops from joining the force. What it does to the public's trust in law enforcement is immeasurable.

The mayor should add his voice to this issue. Mainly, though, we wish the FOP would step back and consider that bad cops can kill a city. Surely, a union made up of police should see part of its job as protecting citizens - and not just protecting its members.

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