To clean up Police Department, make cops tell the truth

     Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey is shown speaking to members of the media in 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey is shown speaking to members of the media in 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    “The worst case of police corruption I’ve ever heard,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said of the federal charges against six narcotics police officers, and it’s hard to argue with him.

    These men are accused of beating, kidnapping and robbing their targets of untold sums of money and property — hanging one guy over a balcony, keeping another prisoner in a hotel room and threatening his family.

    And what a surprise when, on Sunday, the Inquirer’s Craig McCoy tells us citizens have been telling the department for years that these same cops were up to this stuff, and despite $500,000 in civil suit settlements, they’ve skated.

    The charges are just charges of course, and the accused officers will have their day in court. But it’s interesting that at bail hearings their attorneys said many of their alleged crimes were witnessed by supervisors and members of other law enforcement agencies.

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    It’s pretty dispiriting when the people we trust to protect us from criminals turn out to be criminals themselves. There are bad actors in every profession of course, but I think there’s one reason we have a particularly tough time rooting brutality and corruption out of the police force

    Lies and Consequences

    When police internal affairs investigators look into complaints, they often have to weigh the word of civilians, some with criminal records, against the denials of police officers and corroborating accounts from their fellow officers. Without independent witnesses or evidence, cops get the benefit of the doubt. Understandable.But here’s the problem: When it later turns that out that accused officers were guilty of misconduct, what happens to officers who weren’t in on it, but who misled or lied to investigators to protect their friends?All too often, it’s nothing.One of the last stories I did at the Philadelphia Daily News involved the case of a police officer who roughed up some young people in a convenience store because they’d had a fender-bender accident with his son.After accosting and injuring a young woman in the group, the cop arrested her and she was charged with assaulting an officer. He said she’d attacked him.The case against her fell apart when a store surveillance video confirmed her version of the events and made it clear the officer had lied. The officer was disciplined, and the city eventually settled a civil suit over the incident.But here’s the interesting part: When I looked at the internal affairs file on the case, I learned that three different police officers visited the convenience store clerk with a couple days of the incident, and the clerk said two of them asked him to erase the surveillance tape so the cop involved wouldn’t get in trouble.They were interviewed about their visits to the store by internal affairs, and nothing happened to them. I can’t imagine why the store clerk would make such a tale up, but it was the cops’ word against the clerk’s, so they got the benefit of the doubt.My gut tells me they did ask him to destroy or withhold evidence in the case, and they felt comfortable doing it because they knew nothing would happen to them.I can’t pretend to understand what a Philadelphia cop goes through every day, but it sure makes sense that officers would want to stick together and support the people who understand their lives and who they rely on to stay safe on the streets.That said, as long as cops are free to lie with impunity, we’ll never really get a handle on police corruption in this city.


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