It was a smart move by Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey to confirm that he’ll go ahead with plans to enlarge the Police Department’s Internal Affairs bureau by 25 percent — and to do so during the same week he launched a charm offensive with police-community meetings around the city. Ramsey needs to work in-house and in the community to drive home his message of zero tolerance about police misconduct.
His trouble within the ranks with rogue cops is well-documented. Eleven city officers have been arrested on charges including murder, rape, and drug dealing since early 2009. They’re among a squad-size contingent of some 51 officers fired since Mayor Nutter hired the no-nonsense cop. The best immediate means to nab bad cops is to increase oversight, which Ramsey plans to beef up by mid-October, with the addition of 26 officers to Internal Affairs. The cadre of officers includes a number of volunteers — in itself, a positive sign of change in a department that is frequently tainted by corruption.
Beyond that, the commissioner’s directive to upgrade ethics training and his proposal to raise the bar for recruits should produce a smarter police force less likely to dishonor the badge. However, Ramsey also has a problem on the street — where Philadelphians encounter officers known to run off the rails by using heavy-handed tactics that raise cries of police brutality.
Those incidents, inevitably, are played out these days in vivid and disturbing video images on the Internet. The latest came in early September, with the violent arrest of an Overbrook man who police say tangled with them outside a restaurant. Officers can be seen repeatedly clubbing the man, who faces assault and other charges. Answering a reporter’s questions about the incident, which is now being reviewed by Internal Affairs, a Ramsey spokesman quipped that “not every arrest ends with someone saying, ‘Thank you.’ ”
True, there are two sides to every allegation of police abuse. But the department needs to be less reflexively defensive about such allegations, at least until the facts are aired. A plan to hold forums in police districts across the city should provide a good opportunity for citizens to air their gripes. The mayor said the department welcomed “ideas, concerns, and suggestions for improving interaction” between the police and the citizenry they serve and protect.
During his run for mayor, Nutter unfairly took some heat over stop-and-frisk policies aimed at reducing crime. There may be a political dividend for him in calming inner-city community anxiety over alleged police abuses. But it also stands to reason that holding police officers to higher standards of conduct will increase the odds of achieving better community relations, as well as the cooperation from residents that the mayor rightly contends is a crucial component in “keeping our city safe.”