Too Little, Too Late


Get used to disappointing news about Philly Police

The Washington Post ran this slide deck of P/O Cyrus Mann highlighting the frustrating paradox the City has put itself in by being unable to get rid of police officers who are a liability on the Police Department and on taxpayer funds with civil court settlements for wrongdoing.

The verdict?  The shitty police arbitration contract is to blame.

Who is ultimately responsible for the language in this contract? Mayor Jim Kenney.

Don’t look for the DA to fix this

A common misconception with many of you is that the upcoming District Attorney race next month will have some sort of platform or mechanism for dealing with bad police officers.   That’s not happening.

First off: the District Attorney of Philadelphia is an independent state officer.   In the grand scheme of things the district attorney is a state agency.  The DA’s office is an office full of lawyers that represents the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.   Locals have some belief that the DA answers to the mayor or City Council or is in charge of the police somehow.   The DA is subservient only to City Council during one point out of the year:  when the City determines how much of its budget is to be turned over to the DA’s office to run it.  The rest of the time it sits alone.

The Police Department sits directly underneath the mayor.   To achieve the level of impotence we have, the City has agreed for decades not to touch any cop outside specific exemptions set forth in the discipline section of the police arbitration contract.   These exemptions cover basic employee behavior, such as passing random drug screenings, reporting sick time, and specific police procedures that must be followed to avoid termination.

Absent from the contract terms are basic ethics and core conduct requirements.  For instance: it’s perfectly OK for a Philadelphia Police officer to scream n*gger at any random individual on the street.   Or to have sex in a police cruiser.  These aren’t punishable offenses that the District Attorney’s office can do much about.  It can only take cases to prosecution that are actually prosecutable.  Is it a bit iffy if the law was broken?  Not worth the DA’s time, then.

More often than not; juries tend to trust and acquit police officers in areas where crime is a top concern and in urban jurisdictions indicted cops have a habit of forgoing jury trials for a judge instead.

While public pressure may mount to indict police officers involved in high profile shooting incidents, it often results in failed prosecutions; such as the case with Freddie Gray where the Baltimore DA literally had nothing to prosecute and Philando Castile where the videotape evidence was damning.

And then there’s the obvious: indicted cops are always represented by the region’s top defense lawyers–the same ones who represent local celebs and high dollar drug kingpens.  The Philadelphia FBI field office has more resources and has had more success going after corrupt Philadelphia cops and it has a distinct advantage: Philadelphians cannot elect any of the judges who serve in Federal court where the feds bring their cases.

Even the sole option available has its flaws

There is one mechanism the District Attorney has to control out-of-control police officers:  refuse to bring criminal cases to trial involving officers that it has found to be problematic.

This isn’t a new idea, either.   In rare circumstances the public gets to learn which cops are on the DA’s shit list whenever the DA decides to release the memos it sends to the Philadelphia police chief detailing names it no longer wants to see on a PARS report or as witnesses.  When defense attorneys hear about the names it sets off a stampede to research which cops testified at which trials.  Ultimately laser toner is running dry at the City printing out settlement checks.

But even this technique has its flaws.   It doesn’t touch cops who are ethical nightmares but stop short of committing actual crimes the DAO can act upon.  Some of the cops who do win back their jobs after beating off a prosecution are still banned from ever testifying at trials, but they still mark time towards a pension anyway.

“Honor, Integrity” starts with ourselves

The police arbitration contract is ultimately where honor and integrity are going to actually have any meaning.   The only way that can happen is when intense pressure is put upon City Council and the Mayor to fix the arbitration contract to tie ethical integrity rules directly to police officer paychecks.

Police love to think of themselves as a paramilitary organization.   No bad cop on the Philadelphia Police payroll would like their job tied to UCMJ-style rules, particularly any rule that would sever a police officer for being a complete disgrace to the uniform.

So what’s the hold up, then?

The biggest impediment to reforming our police contract is that we are lazy.  We are not applying real pressure to City Council and the Mayor to fix this, by threatening to elect ousters who will look at the police contract with more scrutiny.

Philadelphians are quite accepting of the fucked-up world they live in, as much as they bitch about it.  Some think that the recent nomination of Larry Krasner as a candidate for District Attorney will magically fix everything.   While some can take some sense of comfort that Krasner will prosecute fewer drug dealers and rapists, that doesn’t change the picture with rogue cops.   Even if Krasner spends more of the office’s budget investigating police officers, he will be despirited as other DAs in the past with failed prosecutions and bad apples returning to the police force because of the contract the mayor signed.

Another reason: our activists are stupid.   There wasn’t a single activist around in the DelVal to give Mayor Kenney pressure before inking a new deal with the Fraternal Order of Police.   It means there is three solid years of nothing-will-get-done ahead of us.   All the protesting, bitching and screaming in the world is not going to change any of those facts.  While protestors can certainly make life a little unpleasant they’re not going to get anywhere.   There is no leverage to exploit with any politicians in office.

The FOP really has nothing to worry about other than a Federal judge stepping in with a court decree.   We are no stranger to those.  The City is bound by several court decrees: one for the stop-and-frisk policy from the Nutter administration that forces PPD to keep detailed records on random stops, another decree the City agreed to places limits on civil asset forfeitures and for 20 years the City has faced Federal court pressure on its prison population size.

Philadelphians could direct their attention to City Council races and apply pressure there and also threaten to make Kenney a 1-term mayor, but I don’t think The People are that savvy.

People might care about police misconduct; but they don’t care that much.


Photo:  Former Philadelphia Police Officer Perry Betts, who was acquitted in a Narcotics Squad corruption scandal, was rehired by Philadelphia Police, only to be fired again a day later for failing a random drug test.