35th Police District ‘Unity Day’ takes on new meaning amid community support of ousted captain

Accompanied by a beat boxer, MC Babe set the theme of the 35th Police District’s Unity Day to rhythm.

“We’re keeping it real in the 35th,” went the stage-setting line.

Held on Saturday at the district’s headquarters at N. Broad St. and Champlost Ave., Unity Day has served as an opportunity for officers and residents to interact, breaking down the so-called “blue wall” that can separate a community from its overseers.

This year, the long-standing tradition took on a new meaning, as many residents of the district are trying to secure the return of their beloved police captain, who was suspended and transferred over allegations of procedural violations.

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Internal investigation

As reported by the Daily News, 35th District Commanding Officer John McCloskey allegedly participated in the quashing of an arrest report in July at the behest of his supervisor, Inspector Aaron Horne, head of the Northwest Police Division.

After an Internal Affairs investigation, Horne and McCloskey both received 30-day suspensions from Commissioner Charles Ramsey and were transferred to new positions. Horne went to the Forensics Bureau while McCloskey was sent to night command.

In light of this, residents of the second largest of Philadelphia’s 22 districts met with Ramsey last week to make the case for McCloskey, who has spent 19 straight years of his career in the 35th District as sergeant, lieutenant and captain.

Resident lobbyists

Last Monday, a nine-member delegation of civic leaders from the 35th District met with the city’s top cop for more than two hours.

At a public meeting held Thursday night at the Olney Recreation Center, Eric Brice, communications director for the 35th District Town Watch, offered a rundown of what transpired.

“It was a very good meeting,” said Brice. “Very cordial. Very friendly.”

He said that Ramsey detailed the situation to the delegation, and explained that his actions were taken to preserve the department’s integrity.

Brice indicated that Ramsey expected some community response from the decision, “but I don’t think he expected the level of push back that he got.”

According to Brice, Ramsey expressed gratitude for the respectful manner and dedication of those working to restore McCloskey, but did not commit to definitive course of action.

While no follow-up meeting with Ramsey was planned, Brice announced that the group’s next step will involve reaching out to City Council members for assistance while augmenting petitions and letter-writing campaigns already underway.

“Right now, everyone has to stand his ground,” said Brice. “It’s relatively fresh, so we have to keep doing what we’re doing.”

McCloskey meets his support network

Surrounded by those seeking his reinstatement, McCloskey worked the Unity Day crowd and received words of support from those present.

Unity Day began in 2008, in its current incarnation, to foster better relations between the police, community and business owners in the district which covers portions of West Oak Lane and East Germantown.

“We’re only as good as the support we get from the community and the business people,” McCloskey explained. “We want them to feel that they can come to us and know that we will actually act upon the problem that they have.”

From a policing standpoint, McCloskey said that Unity Day makes police officers more approachable, especially to young adults, which is of particular concern to police commanders seeking to curb disturbing youth-violence trends.

“We have to come together to find solutions,” he said of youthful offenders. “It’s not a lost generation; we’ve got to reach the kids who really need help.”

They have his back

While McCloskey, who is still pictured as captain of the 35th on its website, and his supporters await the decisions of PPD command, shows of support for the captain and the district itself were numerous.

David Weston, president of the Oak Lane Community Action Association, noted that he has observed an uptick in drugs and prostitution since the captain’s reassignment.

“It’s a constant fight, and Capt. McCloskey was constantly on top of that,” said Weston. “We definitely need him back here.”

Angela Wilson of Ogontz came to Unity Day to root for her beat-boxing son Armand, and for her local police.

“I support the 35th District and the work they do in the neighborhood,” she said. “I feel really safe. They’re doing an excellent job.”

Her husband, Floyd Wilson, joined the conversation.

“They’re very supportive. They’re there for the people,” Floyd Wilson said. Pointing at the district headquarters, he continued that, “I can come here and get anything I need.”

Bringing up district leadership, he argued that McCloskey should be restored to his position as “he has supported this neighborhood for years.”

“Tell those people down at City Hall that he deserves to be given a second chance,” Wilson said. “Anybody can make a mistake.”

Lt. Ray Evers, the department’s ranking spokesman, said Monday that he could not comment on the specifics of an ongoing internal investigation, but that the commissioner made the decision after reviewing the case and “believes the disciplinary actions taken were appropriate.”

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