The Philadelphia Police Department deserves something between a detached bro nod and a slow clap.
Last week, I came down on the department for its lack of transparency and responsiveness after two plainclothes officers who nearly killed an unarmed pizza deliveryman in 2014 were quietly put back on the streets.
So, when I detected some progress, no matter how slow and imperfect, I wanted to give the police their due.
On the surface, the department recently had not one, but two come-to-Jesus moments.
First, in response to my colleague Mensah Dean’s story about the shooting that resulted in a record $4.4 million city settlement, the police reversed course on a policy that barred officials from disclosing the lengths of the officers’ suspensions.
The officers who pumped 14 bullets into Philippe Holland’s car, three of which hit his face and a leg, were each given a 25-day suspension without pay.
It was an obscenely light punishment given the lasting damage they inflicted on Holland, who feared he was about to be robbed when he spotted two shadowy figures stepping out of an unmarked car parked in the intersection of Willows Avenue and 51st Street.
“Historically, we’ve viewed shootings the same way we viewed any other internally generated investigation," said department spokesman Capt. Sekou Kinebrew. “Our thought has evolved on this.”
In short, Kinebrew said: “It came down to retaining a policy vs. transparency.”
Can I get an amen?
The second moment came Monday, when, in response to community pressure from four civic associations, the officers were reassigned from the West Philadelphia district where the shooting took place.
Officer Mitchell Farrell, 30, was reassigned to the Eighth District in Northeast Philadelphia, while Officer Kevin Hanvey, 28, now works in the Third District, in South Philadelphia.
Great news for West Philly -- but moving the problem isn’t addressing it. Just ask the Catholic Church.
Or, read the letter from residents who specifically said they didn’t want the cops shuffled to another neighborhood:
“If the Philadelphia Police Department is unwilling to terminate [the officers], we respectfully request that they be permanently assigned positions with no public contact with the residents and businesses of our communities or with any other Philadelphia neighborhood.”
Sounded more than fair to me, but then, that’s not taking into account a problematic union and arbitration system that consistently sacrifices the integrity of a whole department for individual cops who often don’t deserve the blind support.
“All this does is makes it someone else’s problem,” Larissa Mogano, cofounder of Cobbs Creek Neighbors, said of the officers’ new assignments.
Of course, the bigger problem is that the department lost the opportunity to fire the officers when it could.
In January, the department’s Police Board of Inquiry found the officers not guilty of violating the policy prohibiting officers from shooting at moving vehicles. Police Commissioner Richard Ross overruled the finding.
The officers completed their suspensions this month. Meanwhile, Holland, who was a 20-year-old college student when he was shot, remains disfigured, with bullet fragments in his brain. He will permanently suffer from seizures.
Even with the settlement, justice was not served here.
In a just-hit-replay statement, John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, has said the union supports the officers and will fight their punishments.
The shooting that forever changed Holland’s life? McNesby called it “an unfortunate ordeal.”
As horrific as Holland’s experience has been, this ordeal goes beyond one man to a city that pays out millions of dollars to citizens who are at the mercy of liabilities with guns.
I told Kinebrew that despite the department’s efforts, this is likely not over. I can’t imagine any neighborhood would feel comfortable with these officers patrolling their streets, even if the officers wear uniforms now.
“That was not something that was lost on us,” Kinebrew said.
Kudos for acknowledging that.
But by kicking the can, or cops, down the road, everyone loses.
Good effort, Philly PD. But still not good enough.