Passion, anger, frustration and optimism radiated from testimony at a City Council hearing yesterday on police misconduct.
"I fully acknowledge that we have a problem in our organization now and I'm committed to fixing it," said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
Council members Donna Reed Miller and Curtis Jones Jr. held the nearly seven-hour committee hearing in hopes of garnering suggestions on how to improve police-community relations, publicize methods to file complaints and explore how police misconduct is being addressed.
Complaints against police are up this year, with 725 reported as of Nov. 30, compared to only 697 complaints in 2009, Ramsey said.
Stories of racial profiling, beatings and shooting deaths at the hands of Philadelphia police officers reverberated through City Council chambers yesterday.
"It's a very emotional situation," said Abdus Sabur, the father of Askia Sabur, a West Philadelphia man whose violent arrest was captured on YouTube in September. "If any of you have sons and your son is beat down by somebody that you think is supposed to protect you, you tell me how you feel?"
Askia Sabur faces charges of resisting arrest, assaulting an officer and other charges in the Sept. 3 incident. An Internal Affairs investigation is ongoing.
In his testimony, Ramsey said that the department is taking aggressive steps toward removing individuals who have misused their authority. He pointed out that the department has added 38 people to the Office of Professional Responsibility, in which the Internal Affairs Bureau is housed.
Ramsey has also requested that adjustments be made to the police department's hiring standards, which are approved by the Civil Service Commission.
Applicants now need to have only a high-school diploma or GED and be at least 19 years old.
The adjustments would require that applicants be at least 21, have three years of driving experience and an associate's degree or 60 semester hours from an accredited college or university with a minimum grade-point average of 2.0. Certain exceptions would apply for applicants with at least two years of active military service.
Ramsey also said that there is a need for extensive background checks for applicants.
"The overall goal," Ramsey said "is to prevent police misconduct from occurring in the first place."
Internal Affairs has partnered with the FBI and the District Attorney's Office as part of a joint task force to investigate police misconduct and corruption, Ramsey said.
"Please bear in mind, a vast majority of the officers are doing their job," said John McGrody, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. "We don't need a rush to judgment."
Anyone with a grievance may file a complaint online at the Internal Affairs website, via a hot-line number or through paper complaint forms that are available at any police facility and numerous city-owned buildings.
* In other news: Before the hearing on police misconduct, an ordinance attempting to close the "Florida Loophole," which allows Pennsylvania residents to use out-of-state gun permits to carry weapons here, was voted out of committee. It could receive full Council approval as early as Jan. 27, but would likely face a challenge in state court.