Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Can Philly's police police themselves?

True story: I got of the Broad Street line in South Philadelphia a few years ago with a group of four or five cops right behind me. As I walked down to the Italian Market, I listened to their conversation behind me.

It was gossip, but interesting gossip. Apparently a young new police officer had been assigned to one of the cushiest precincts in the city. Why? His dad was an Internal Affairs officer, and he had marched his son before the precinct's higher-ups and told them, essentially, "You take my boy or I will start vigorously investigating every complaint against officers in this district."

I don't know if the story is true--I didn't think the police officers telling me the story would appreciate it if I revealed myself to be a journalist, listening in to their public conversation, so I didn't get in any follow-up questions--but the officers telling it sure seemed to think it was true.

So it's good that a few Internal Affairs heads are rolling for failure to investigate the case of guns that went missing from the department. But I can't help but wonder if the systemic rot in the part of the Police Department designed to hold officers accountable for their conduct is much more widespread than the scandal shows. And I wonder if Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey knows that--or if he's just taking care of the one problem that made the papers. Either way, I don't have a lot of faith in the ability of the police department to police itself.

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