Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Police Dept. needs better screening of recruits, more accountability for all officers

An IOM editorial in the Daily News:

Police Dept. needs better screening of recruits, more accountability for all officers

An IOM editorial in the Daily News:

IN ANY other year, the news that the city may be adding a class of police recruits sooner than anticipated would be cause for celebration.

But the idea that the Philadelphia Police Department is about to get approval from the city to hire a class of recruits - after the past two classes were canceled due to budget woes - is cause for some concern . . . at least on one front.

In the last year, the troubled department has seen 13 of its members arrested, with others under FBI investigation. And out of those arrested last year, nine were 30 years old or younger.

And just as a few bad cops should not damn the whole department, neither do these stats damn every young recruit who graduates from the Police Academy. But it does raise big questions about the department's performance in the screening, training and ongoing management of its younger members.

It also underscores the lack of progress made in the issue of police accountability. The Police Advisory Commission (PAC) is the civil agency that is supposed to provide outside oversight of the department. But its budget is small, and its teeth are even smaller: It has no power to subpoena, or to demand performance information from the department.

The fact is, no real progress on the public's perception of the department will change without a strong and independent voice, which the Police Accountability and Integrity Office provided before it was dissolved.

Maybe the PAC can, with funding, do that, but the same model that the mayor has used for ethics should be considered for the police. Nutter strengthened the city's anti-corruption squad by appointing a high-profile former prosecutor as inspector general and created the position of chief integrity officer, who's responsible for training city employees about how to behave ethically.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has recognized that some change is needed. For example, he recently announced that he is folding the division responsible for background checks of new recruits into Internal Affairs. That elevates the process by enlisting some of the best investigators in the department to ensure that rookies meet basic standards of integrity. This is a good start for the kind of change that's needed, although it still relies on the cops to police themselves.

The bottom line: Bad cops are a signal, not that all cops are bad, but that the department needs help in fixing itself, as well as the very real issue of public trust in the police. The Nutter administration can and should take the extra step to improve this - before the new Academy class graduates.

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