AT ONE POINT yesterday, I wondered if I should hold a mirror under my nose.
Maybe I was dead.
Maybe that explained the sound of crickets when I tried to get responses to the late-day news Friday that six former Philadelphia police officers who were the subject of a made-for-TV, 26-count federal indictment got their jobs back through arbitration. An arbitrator ruled to reinstate them, with a year's worth of back pay.
Two months ago, a jury acquitted the officers - Thomas Liciardello, Michael Spicer, Brian Reynolds, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser - of allegedly using their positions to run a criminal enterprise. They were accused of a host of craziness, including regularly robbing and beating drug dealers and altering paperwork to hide their deeds.
I talked to one guy who said he was dangled over an 18th-floor balcony by some members of the crew. I believed his story. A jury didn't.
On the day of the officers' arrests last summer, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey called it "one of the worst cases of corruption."
Mayor Nutter warned other officers, "Don't stray from the law. If you do, we will find you. You will be prosecuted, and more than likely you will go to jail."
Or you won't - but that doesn't mean this crew isn't compromised, which is what I wanted to talk to city leaders about.
"We're not issuing a statement on this today," came the reply from Cameron Kline, spokesman for District Attorney Seth Williams.
Really? More than 400 overturned drug cases involving this crew and nothing . . . ? The D.A. won't be using the testimony of these officers. The accused will walk and he has nothing to say? What happens when one of these cops arrests someone - is the D.A. going to decline to prosecute?
Next stop was Mayor Nutter's office. No, I did not miss a statement from the mayor, a spokeswoman matter-of-factly informed me. More than 100 civil lawsuits against the city related to these officers, and again, nada? What's wrong, Mayor Nutter, pope got your tongue?
Fine, I thought, I'll just get a copy of the arbitrator's report and read the details for myself. "Oh, you want a copy of the arbitrator's report?" said someone from the city's law department. Yeah . . . you'll have to file a right-to-know request, because that, my fellow Philly citizens, is how "transparency" works in this city.
In Commissioner Ramsey's defense, the very dejected-sounding top cop at least took my call.
After the U.S. Attorney failed to get a conviction, Ramsey said, "it was just a matter of time" before the cops got reinstated. "That's our system unfortunately," he said.
But it doesn't have to be. At what point do we stop blaming the broken system and either change it or find another way?
"Who's the we?" Ramsey said. "If you or someone out there has a better idea, it's certainly something I'd be more than willing to listen to."
Actually, there are a lot of ideas out there. Kelvyn Anderson, executive director of the Police Advisory Commission, has a bunch, including coming up with more disciplinary tools to keep bad cops off the job.
As tempted as I was to yell at Ramsey - Man up! Do something, anything! Don't let the terrorists win! - after a while it just felt like I was kicking a puppy. And I like puppies. I just think we need something a little less cuddly to force the change we need when it comes to shady cops.
And so here I sit, shaking my head and fist at a city that can't keep tainted cops off the force but has the - pardon my Nuyorican - cojones to tell residents to trust in the police department.
It would be laughable if, as a reader rightly put it when I said as much, it wasn't so dangerous. "Bad cops kill," he said.
But here's another thing I realized as I waited for my phone not to ring - any change to the broken arbitration system isn't going to come from this administration. They already have one foot out the door.
If there is any hope of change, it's going to come from the next mayor, from the next administration that has the political will to stop shrugging off a broken system and bending to the will of the police union.
Hi, Jim Kenney, see me waving?
The Democratic mayoral candidate, who was endorsed by the police union, has a lot of ideas that he's spelled out in his public-safety policy paper. His people have promised me a sit down to discuss them.
In the meantime, I get it now, Philly. How if you spend any time in this town expecting change or reform and instead consistently get more of the same, the Philly Shrug just creeps into your system like some cancer.
It's a survival mechanism, a way to keep from pulling out your hair, from finding yourself walking up and down Market Street murmuring curse words under your breath.
Because that's where I was yesterday, stunned at the lack of response from our public officials, disgusted at how often they forget the "public" part of their titles, dismayed at how people with the power to change so much choose to shrug off their obligations to the people of this city.
Call me a naive newbie. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I'm not giving in. I'm not going to accept this - and I beg you not to either. Even if our current public officials just shrug.
On Twitter: @NotesFromHel
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