The story that I want to talk about is so rare among Philadelphia public officials that it qualifies as a man-bites-dog story. Bill McSwain, the new U.S. attorney for the Philadelphia area, spoke to the police at the Police Academy last week and what he told the police could not and would not be said by people like Mayor Jim Kenney or District Attorney Larry Krasner.
I had McSwain on my radio show and he told me that this was his first public address in his new role. He did it to push back against what he described as an unfair and deep atmosphere of criticism against cops in our area and around the country. Kenney and Krasner should read this column and then read McSwain’s speech. Krasner caused controversy when he spoke to Philadelphia Police recruits and seemed to make unrealistic demands on them. Kenney has been busy undercutting Police Commissioner Ross in the events around the Starbucks arrest.
McSwain told the police “I love what you do. I love what you stand for. When you put on your uniform, you are telling the world that you have dedicated your life to public service, dedicated your life to keeping our communities safe — and that you’re even willing to risk your own life to do it. I respect you, I admire you, and I thank you. Everybody in this room is a hero to me. That’s what I think, and now you know exactly where I stand.”
Could you imagine the furor if Kenney, Krasner or Governor Tom Wolf said these words? Can you imagine their supporters’ response if they told cops that they were heroes? Why has it come to this that these sentiments are so out of bounds in Philadelphia? Maybe more importantly, what happens when cops become demoralized because of being demonized?
McSwain addressed this when he said to the police, “We know what happens if the officers in a police department become demoralized and let it affect their work. All we have to do is look to our neighbor to the south, the City of Baltimore, which is now described as the most dangerous city in America, with an alarmingly high rate of violence and the highest per capita murder rate in the country. We’ve come too far in Philadelphia to go backwards now. We can’t become the next Baltimore.”
It seems to me that McSwain’s fear is possible. Kenney, Krasner, and Wolf have recently fallen all over themselves to embrace Meek Mill. Do they exhibit the same eagerness to stand with the police?
The biggest punch McSwain landed was when he told the police that the truth about police could be “found in statistics and facts, rather than in anti-factual ideology.” The biggest fact he presented is that officer-involved shootings have been decreased significantly over the past few years. In 2012, he reported there were 59 officer-involved shootings in Philadelphia and in 2017 there were 14, which is a 76% decrease since 2012.
He credited Commissioner Ross and his reforms for much of this decrease. He cited the transparency that Ross has instituted and the use of social media to communicate with the world. This assessment is much different that Mayor Kenney’s undercutting of Ross during the Starbucks crisis.
I hope the cops listening to McSwain felt some comfort that someone is such a high position has their backs and is fighting to restore the public perception of what our police do. He called upon them to embrace the concept of having conversations with the public not just in an emergency, but in everyday life.
Some in Philadelphia might find McSwain’s speech to be pandering and delusional. That’s fine. I found him to be a thoughtful guy flying in the face of groupthink that diminishes cops. Let’s ask Kenney, Krasner, and Wolf what they think about the idea that cops are heroes. Let’s find out if they dispute his statistics. I believe they are the ones pandering to their base and they are playing with fire.
I love crab cakes, the Inner Harbor and The Wire, but I don’t want to become Baltimore.