Here is the problem with Philadelphia cops: They seem to hate Philadelphia.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure there are plenty of officers who love the city, good men and women whose fathers and grandfathers also spent lifetimes protecting residents from scum and villainy. We also can’t forget that plenty of Philadelphia cops have given their lives in service to the city—there’s no need to besmirch their names. But it’s clear that there are plenty of officers who have nothing but contempt for the Philadelphians they serve: Just check out Tuesday’s Daily News story about “Meanies In Blue.” The attitude extends beyond just a few rank-and-file officers—it’s embedded in one of the city’s most important institutions, the Fraternal Order of Police.
Do Philly Cops Hate Philadelphia?
• They don’t want to live here: Remember, back in 2009, the union won the right to let its members escape the city: Starting this year, every officer with five or more years of experience becomes exempt from City Hall’s residency requirement for public employees. FOP vice president John McGrody advocated for the change, essentially saying that his officers shouldn’t have to actually live in the crime-ridden craphole where they work: “Our members signed up for this job,” he said at the time. “Not their families.”
• They don’t want to play here: Earlier this month, the FOP disclosed that it’s selling its headquarters on Spring Garden Street and moving way up to the Northeast, where the new digs will include a gym, a catering hall, and a restaurant open to officers and their families. Now, it’s probably unfair to suggest that the Northeast isn’t actually part of Philadelphia. And as FOP president John McNesby said, “most of our members are from this area.” But it’s certainly—intentionally—at a far remove from the heart of the city. Moving union headquarters is just one more way local cops can escape the rabble.
• Their contempt for Philadelphians is palpable: In some ways, the Daily News’ Tuesday story is of the dog-bites-man variety: You mean some Philly officers are jerks? I’m shocked! SHOCKED! Yet it’s necessary that we be reminded from time to time that some Philadelphia officers feel free to insult young children and treat them like criminals—without any provocation. And it’s important to note that this “screw you” mentality is actively cultivated by the FOP.
|McNesby’s defiant attitude is
front-and-center on the FOP website.
Check out this March letter from McNesby to William Johnson, executive director of the Police Advisory Commission, after the commission urged officers to apologize to city residents who had complained about police behavior. “It is absolutely incredible that you would engage in any attempt to further weaken and demoralize the Philadelphia Police Department in a time of crisis with a significantly growing crime problem in this City,” McNesby wrote. “The danger your policy poses to our citizens is both reckless and inexcusable.” And in a chilling afterthought, he added: “Your group poses a direct threat to public safety in this City. A threat which should no longer be tolerated by our citizens or their government .”
McNesby’s attitude, then, is that accountability—even toothless accountability—is dangerous, that citizens who demand it are a threat. This is scary stuff.
To be fair, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey appears to be fighting these attitudes. His neighborhood-based policing policy has tried to put city cops back in touch with the neighborhoods they service. “There are more decent, law-abiding citizens living there than criminals—and you don’t know that if you’re driving up and down the street in a Crown Vic at 40 miles an hour,” Ramsey told the Daily News.
But he’s fighting an uphill battle.
We in Philadelphia rightly and regularly lament the “stop snitching” culture that allows criminals to evade responsibility for their crimes. But we rarely talk about how that culture is perpetuated by the evident contempt of local cops for the city and residents they serve. The police don’t earn our trust just because they have a badge and a gun.
Philadelphia police hate Philadelphia. Their job might be easier—and we all might be safer—if they didn’t.