Wanted: Ideas to prevent police corruption

Posted: August 01, 2014

MAYBE YOU'RE tired of reading news stories about police corruption.

Nobody would blame you.

According to Mayor Nutter, 146 Philadelphia police officers have been fired for a variety of offenses since his administration took office in 2008.

Among those on that ever-growing list, 88 have been arrested, and 48 have been convicted of crimes that have included murder, rape and extortion.

Maybe you're disgusted by the bombshell that dropped earlier this week, when six veteran narcotics cops were hauled off to jail on a 26-count federal indictment.

Nobody would blame you.

The fallout from this scandal will linger for some time, thanks in part to the sheer theatricality of the crimes the six were accused of committing between 2006 and 2012: kidnapping suspected drug dealers, dangling 'em from balcony ledges, dividing up hundreds of thousands of dollars in dirty money.

Maybe you feel as if the situation has reached a breaking point, that the time has come for new ideas - no matter how far-fetched - with the hope of preventing more scandals and civic black eyes.

You're not alone.

A handful of veteran law-enforcement officials and city leaders spoke yesterday to the Daily News about the need to shake things up.

Closer oversight

Some veteran cops said they couldn't understand how their six newly indicted former colleagues could have allegedly committed a wave of thefts and assaults without attracting the attention of their bosses.

It's enough of an outrage to make some think that a different approach is needed.

"Narcotics units are already under more supervision than probably any unit in the Police Department," one longtime law-enforcement commander said.

"But I wonder if it would make sense for Internal Affairs to just have people assigned to the individual narcotics units, where they can directly oversee their functions."

The extra oversight might sound annoying to some cops, the commander said, but the benefits would be obvious.

"You wouldn't have complaints against officers festering for years," he said. "If someone says, 'Hey, those cops just stole $300 from me,' he could go directly to that unit's Internal Affairs liaison."

Body cameras are gradually becoming part of the everyday uniform for officers in other cities.

The New York Times reported last year that complaints against police fell 88 percent after cops began using them in Rialto, Calif. The paper found that the technology also had popped up in police departments in Albuquerque, N.M.; Fort Worth, Texas; and Oakland, Calif.

SEPTA recently announced a pilot program to have their officers try the technology.

So, what about the Philadelphia Police Department?

"I'd personally enjoy having a body camera, so you could see how people call us every name in the book out there," one veteran police supervisor said.

"It might cut out some problems, but it could also work against us," he said. "In certain parts of this city, we have to talk a certain way, or we'd get eaten alive."

Everett Gillison, Nutter's chief of staff, said he would like to apply for grant money that would enable police to experiment with body cameras and recording devices mounted inside police cruisers.

City Councilman Jim Kenney mulled the merits of having an ad-hoc panel of law-enforcement experts audit the Police Department from top to bottom.

"It's nothing against Commissioner [Charles] Ramsey, because I honestly think he's been one of our better commissioners," Kenney said.

"But having a different set of eyes assess the department and make recommendations may be something that's worthwhile."

Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, the interim president of the Committee of Seventy citizens' watchdog group, yesterday called for creation of a permanent, independent Police Advisory Commission that would have subpoena power.

The current commission, which exists by executive order, is widely viewed as toothless and underfunded.

An effort to create a new board by amending the city charter was introduced in 2012 by Councilman Curtis Jones, but hasn't gained steam.

"People need to have trust that they're being protected by officers who are honest," Kaplan said.

"You can't say, 'Oh, we've only had a small number of [cops] arrested,' " she said. "At some point, you reach a tipping point, and this is it, to me. Something's got to change."

Nutter, Ramsey and John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, hailed a new labor agreement announced yesterday that will give Ramsey the long-sought ability to regularly rotate cops out of narcotics units and Internal Affairs.

Gillison said the Police Department under Ramsey already has ramped up efforts to weed out bad cops, from increasing the number of people in Internal Affairs to expanding its relationships with anti-corruption squads in the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the D.A.'s office.

The Police Department now averages about 24 firings a year, Gillison said.

"While it is, quote-unquote, a constant black eye, the number of [fired] officers only amounts to .35 percent" of the 6,500-person-strong department, he said. "I feel pretty confident that we're doing a good job of getting at the root of the issue."

Ramsey also invited the U.S. Department of Justice to review the Police Department's use of force policies, Gillison said, and applied for accreditation from Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, a multiyear process that amounts to a full-scale internal audit.

"There's not anything else that we could do, quite frankly," he said.

 


On Twitter: @dgambacorta

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