It looks like Bad Cop Month here in Philadelphia.
Just after 72 officers were benched while their social media, um, contributions are scrutinized, 10 police recruits “resigned” for attempting to cheat on an open-book test. (They would have been dismissed had they not resigned, Police Commissioner Richard Ross tells me.)
Cheating on an open-book test sounds like a joke, but it’s not funny. These are people we were training to enforce the rules who couldn’t get through training without breaking them. The 10 who resigned may not be the full complement, either; there are accusations of more recruits involved in cheating.
It’s not the first time police cadets got caught cheating. The last time was three years ago, at the state level, and 29 cadets were tossed.
We invest a lot of trust in those to whom we hand a badge and a gun. I remember former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson saying they get to save a life, take a life, or give a life. The minimum we expect is honesty.
As for the Facebook 72, “there is a gallows humor among cops that allows them to deal with the harsh realities of their job,” says Leonard Sipes, a former spokesperson for the National Crime Prevention Council. “Exaggeration and seemingly over-the-top comments help cops cope.”
Disrespectful, racist, and Islamophobic posts are clearly out of bounds, but attempts at humor must be reviewed individually. Some cops may need to go, while others may need an attitude adjustment.
Lying is a different issue, and not new to Philadelphia.
When he was district attorney in 2017, Seth Williams created a secret “do not call” list of 29 Philadelphia cops who were deemed risky witnesses because he believed they were liars or compromised in some other way. The list became public after Larry Krasner became DA in 2018.
Digest that for a moment: Cops considered so dirty by the prosecutor that they might not be called to the stand. The practical effect of that, as was reported at the time, was to dismiss cases involving problem officers. Critics correctly complained that the dismissals denied justice to some victims. That was a direct and dire effect of the Lying Blue Line.
The phenomenon even has a name — testilying.
When a cop lies, it is more than a moral failing; it erodes trust in the system. That’s why it must be dealt with swiftly, says David M. White, who directs the conflict management program at the Seton Hall University School of Law. Commanders “must embrace zero tolerance,” which means “decisive discipline, up to and including discharge where warranted," he tells me.
Here’s what Commissioner Ross tells me: “Lying, cheating, and deception stand wholly incongruent with the standards and core values of the Philadelphia Police Department."
Regarding the 10 recruits, Ross adds that “their attempt to cheat was thwarted" by another recruit who notified a superior.
Good for that cadet. We need more like that.
In 2015, I interviewed Frank Serpico, the legendary New York City police officer who testified against dirty cops, which almost got him killed.
The good cops have to have the courage to turn in the bad cops, he said.
“It’s an honorable profession,” Serpico told me. “You can face your kids, your community, and your country, and you save your honor.”