Police Capt. John McCloskey was running a little late for Unity Day.
The annual event, held on a September Saturday at the 35th District headquarters, is a chance for cops and locals to interact in a block-party event that closes down Broad Street at Champlost for several hours. It backs up traffic in every direction, making a quick entrance difficult at best.
He’d hoped to be there closer to 1:30 p.m., but at shortly after two, McCloskey glided his grey department-issued Impala into an empty parking space normally reserved for the division inspector.
He’ll just be at Unity Day for a few minutes. Despite being an honorary guest, his presence at his former command was a potential point of contention.
Nevertheless, McCloskey hardly had time to put his hat on when a former officer welcomed him with an authoritative “What, are you lost?” shout.
Out of place
At Unity Day in 2012, McCloskey was the titular head of the 35th, but was assigned to a temporary post as a result of a controversy regarding an alleged obstruction of justice.
As originally reported by the Daily News, McCloskey allegedly participated in the quashing of an arrest report in July at the behest of his supervisor, Inspector Aaron Horne, then head of the department’s Northwest 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.
Community leaders, accustomed to working with McCloskey – he spent 19 straight years of his career in the 35th District as sergeant, lieutenant and captain – began a coordinated effort to retain their beloved captain, organizing community meetings and petitions.
Ultimately, they were invited to have a sit-down with Ramsey, who expressed gratitude for the respectful manner and dedication of those working to restore McCloskey.
Show of support for naught
Optimism prevailed, but in November, word filtered down that McCloskey was gone for good. Recently-promoted Capt. Joseph Fredericksdorf, formerly a lieutenant in the 25th Police District, was installed in the 35th.
McCloskey was transferred to a command position in the neighboring 15th District; Horne remains in the Forensic Bureau.
In a recent interview with NewsWorks, Ramsey explained that while respected the desires of the community, he believed he had to act in the department’s best interest.
Asked if he had seen similar outpourings of support, Ramsey said it was not unusual in situations where officers had made strong connections with the community. He’d witnessed it before while serving in the Chicago Police Department.
“It’s always good when people are involved in their neighborhoods and care,” observed Ramsey, but affirmed his need to hold the department accountable.
“I still feel that way,” said Ramsey, adding that McCloskey would not be returning to the 35th.
For his part, McCloskey said that while he expected some support from residents, “I didn’t know it would be to that extent.”
Asked to explain why he had received such support, he explained that he put an emphasis on quality-of-life concerns, from clearing corners to boarding up vacant houses and removing abandoned automobiles. He was also known to be a fixture at neighborhood meetings.
“My style is helping out the community,” he said.
Community leaders throughout the 35th – which spans from Germantown to Logan, Olney and the Oak Lanes – were disappointed Ramsey’s decision, but accepted it and were eager to establish a similar relationship with McCloskey’s replacement, Capt. Fredericksdorf.
According to several civic leaders, though, that hasn’t happened.
Eric Brice, communications director of the 35th District Town Watch, said that he and other leaders have noticed a “significant drop-off” in community engagement. He cited a greatly diminished police presence at meetings and both phone calls and emails going unanswered.
“The culture under this command does not put a high premium on partnerships,” said Brice. “That’s distressing.”
Brice said that lack of responsiveness is alienating community members who once shared a strong bond with officers. The net result, he explained, is diminished cooperation with police.
“Police are less effective without us,” Brice observed, adding, “as we are without them.”
Hard to reach
Asked if these complaints have been voiced to Fredericksdorf, Brice said that the new captain “is a hard man to get a hold of.”
Fredericksdorf did not respond to phone and email inquiries related to this story.
Inevitably, comparisons will occur during the transition between commands, but according to a police source, there is some relief at the change of leadership within the personnel of the 35th.
When asked about her relationship with the new captain, Ninth District Councilwoman Marian Tasco said that she has not yet had an opportunity to have a sit-down with Fredericksdorf.
While recalling McCloskey fondly, Tasco – whose council district includes most of the 35th – said that she has not been made aware of any complaints about the new captain.
“No one’s called me to say anything,” she said.
They want to talk
Brice said he would like to get the captain – along with Northwest Division Inspector James Kelly, whose office is located at 35th District headquarters – to attend a community meeting to air these grievances.
“We figure we’ll get all the commanders together, hold them to account, let them know what’s on our minds and then step back and see if things improve,” said Brice, noting that he’s also getting nudges from some corners to restart the campaign to get McCloskey back.
Ironically, neighbors in the 15th might be willing to relinquish him.
Just prior to Unity Day, residents of Bridesburg were complaining about lack of patrol in their neighborhood, as available patrol resources were being dedicated to more-violent Frankford.