Another Philadelphia police scandal, right on schedule

Posted: August 07, 2014

Imagine if coworkers allegedly violated rules again and again, not over a year, but sometimes for more than a decade.

Imagine if they allegedly committed acts of violence, and stole money and drugs, and their reckless behavior resulted in $500,000 in settlement payouts.

And imagine if these employees were never fired or appropriately disciplined and, in some cases, collected substantial overtime and commendations. What sort of business would tolerate such behavior?

Welcome to the Philadelphia Police Department.

The recent arrests of six narcotics officers differ from previous cases only in the severity of the allegations - a suspect dangled from an 18-story balcony, kidnapping - and the time it took to charge the cops.

But no one familiar with police corruption is shocked.

"Basically, you can set your clock by this, that every five to seven years, we have another narcotics squad scandal," said lawyer David Rudovsky, who represented plaintiffs in the 39th District police scandal almost two decades ago.

Those settlements helped pay for expanded government supervision over the police and launched what then-Mayor Ed Rendell called "the most ambitious anticorruption program undertaken by the Philadelphia Police Department in its history."

In a blistering narcotics squad report at the time, Integrity and Accountability Officer Ellen Green-Ceisler argued for more rigorous selection of squad candidates, and regular rotations of officers in a unit with easy access to seized drugs and cash. She wrote, "Narcotics Bureau supervisors are not consistently experienced, screened, trained, evaluated, monitored, held accountable, disciplined."

That was a dozen years ago.

Green-Ceisler, now a judge, was also the city's last integrity officer charged with independent police oversight, answerable only to the commissioner and the mayor. The office was essentially shuttered in 2005.

It is time to revive that office. Now.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and Mayor Nutter have suggested that these cops are isolated bad apples, a fraction of the force, but the argument is irrelevant. These officials should be mortified. Furious. And determined to make sure that Rudovsky's "set your clock by it" claim never happens again.

The numbers of arrested rogue cops may seem small, but the collateral damage undermines a department composed mostly of honorable officers. It makes the public deeply suspicious of police corruption and taints prospective jury pools.

Ramsey rightly argued that these cases are tough to make - they often come down to a criminal's allegations against those of a cop - and that the department is hamstrung by union and labor rules. These conditions, which commissioners have criticized for decades, also need to change, especially an Internal Affairs department that lacks teeth.

There were 15 Internal Affairs complaints filed against Officer Thomas Liciardello, the alleged ringleader in this indictment. He was found to have violated regulations only twice.

The officers were repeatedly investigated, internally and by the FBI, but without enough evidence to indict until fellow Officer Jeffrey Walker was arrested and cooperated with authorities.

The politically powerful Fraternal Order of Police includes chief inspectors and beat cops alike. The union is complicit in its consistent Band of Brothers approach that there are no bad cops. And it has long opposed rotations out of narcotics, where corruption has flourished.

Arbitration is a joke, in which suspect cops are consistently reinstated. Said veteran public defender Bradley Bridge: "The City of Philadelphia almost always loses."

The system must be overhauled. "The taint from this group of indicted officers spills over to the good work done by honest police officers," Bridge said. "This cycle will repeat itself until honest police officers, honest judges, honest prosecutors, and honest citizens show appropriate outrage and cause things to be done differently."

Otherwise, wait five to seven years for the next indictment. You can set your clock by it.


kheller@phillynews.com

215-854-2586 @kheller

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|