Cardella: Police Calls

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If you expected wholesale reform in the Philadelphia Police Department, it ain’t happening. Nothing has changed. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), led by John McNesby, still obstructs and stands in the way of getting rid of bad cops. Expecting McNesby to stand for police accountability is like expecting Ben Simmons to run a seminar on teamwork. Yet despite the FOP’s continued obstruction, the police continue to get rewarded with handsome pay raises.

The cops got a nice three-year pay increase in the latest negotiations with the City. The contract granted a pay increase of 2.75% this year and 3.5% the next two years, according to AP News. As if that were not enough, the cash-strapped city threw in a $1,500 bonus for each cop. This wasn’t a negotiation as much as a hostage-taking.

The city got a nod and a wink in the way of transparency in the disciplinary process, a process that is as one-sided as those Bundt cakes my wife used to bake in our old oven. Penalties for wrongdoing were increased, but the arbitration process still allows bad cops to slide, so increasing the penalties means little since they are rarely carried out. There is no change to the residency requirement. Cops can move out of the city after five years on the job. Surprise! — that’s exactly what many do.

The new contract calls for the police union to be alerted when any of its personnel files are requested by city prosecutors. That means District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office. Philadelphia law enforcement is a triad that includes Krasner, who ran for re-election on Tuesday, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and the police themselves. All parties are skilled in the art of pointing fingers at each other for the rise in homicides. These three entities work together like a well-oiled machine — the machine being an Edsel. And McNesby is ever-present, the guy who seems not to be able to tell a good cop from a bad cop.

The Kenney administration tried to shine a light on the city’s negotiations involving the police, but a judge recently shot down its effort. McNesby asked why the police should be singled out when the other municipal unions got essentially the same deal. As much as I hate to admit it, the FOP president might have a point. So here’s a thought — let all these city contracts be publicly reviewed before they’re approved. We all want labor peace in this city, but sometimes the price is akin to blackmail.

Also in the news, Philadelphia has become the first city in the country to pass the Driver Equality Bill. No longer may cops pull over drivers for low-level traffic offenses. The ban takes effect 120 days after the mayor signs the bill. We’re talking broken tail lights and the like.

A companion bill also awaits Mr. Kenney’s signature. This bill provides for a public database that lists traffic stops. About 72% of such stops involve black motorists. Only 42% of the city’s motorists are black. Maybe the bill should have been called the Driving When Black bill. This is a bill that’s long overdue. And it’s my contention that eliminating these traffic stops will protect cops as well as motorists.

My dad, a 20-year veteran of the force, told me that one of the most dangerous things a cop can do is approach a stopped vehicle. The cop doesn’t know what kind of reaction he’s going to get when he reaches the car. On the other hand, such stops are sometimes a form of harassment of innocent black drivers. Traffic-stop situations can escalate to the point where we too often wind up reading about a tragedy the next day. These situations are avoidable. From now on in Philly, drivers committing low-level violations should be notified through the mail.

Too often, cops have used stops for low-level violations to fish for evidence of serious crimes. Pretending to smell pot, a cop can use the excuse to gain access to the vehicle to look for drugs and guns. I was witness to such a stop with someone else driving the car. The cop backed off when I told him what he smelled was air freshener. He might not have backed off if I were black.

A public database of minor traffic stops will help shine a light on abuses that cops make during such stops most often, and on those who are the victims of such abuse. And reduce situations where cops are unwittingly exposed to dangerous criminals and situations that get out of hand.

As for the disconnect between those offices responsible for law enforcement in this city, where do we go from here? How do you resolve a situation where the district attorney’s office doesn’t have the same philosophy for fighting crime as the commissioner of police? DA Krasner is an elected official who by virtue of having won the Democratic nomination was almost guaranteed re-election. Commissioner Outlaw is appointed by the mayor.

Should the City Charter have to be changed to place the police commissioner under the district attorney’s office to ensure the compatibility of their approach? That’s a debate worth having.

And finally, this amazing fact — if you count “correction officers” as police, more cops have died from COVID than gun violence. The FOP says it’s interested in saving police lives. It can start by encouraging cops to get vaccinated.