Philadelphia needs Serpico
Police shootings aside, weve got a quagmire of putrid flesh in police departments, says Frank Serpico. Where are the clean officers to point them out?
THE PHILADELPHIA Police Department is comprised of ill-trained, trigger-happy cops, but at least they are not racist.
Are you relieved?
That's a finding in the long-awaited, commissioner-requested Department of Justice study of Philadelphia's Finest, released this week.
Between 2007 and 2014, Philadelphia cops shot at 394 people, an average of almost one a week, the report says, 59 of them unarmed. That's 15 percent. In about half those cases, cops said they believed the suspect was reaching for a weapon, in others the suspect was fighting with police. "Unarmed" doesn't mean not dangerous, but officers are supposed to shoot only to protect themselves or someone else from imminent death or serious bodily injury.
African-Americans were 80 percent of the total shooting victims, but the unarmed were more likely to be white. In most cases, unarmed black suspects were shot by black officers.
Since the facts don't indicate open-season on Philly blacks, can we give that one a rest?
Are there racist cops? Sure, but the report doesn't present them as a major issue. A bigger problem than being shot at by cops - that happens to few of us - is being treated rudely. Lots more of us get that.
The "command voice," the growled order to comply without explanation, the casual impertinence, obscenities, manhandling, followed by release without apology, is too common. Perhaps "courtesy" should be added to the PPD motto "Honor, Integrity, Service."
The report made a staggering 91 recommendations. Mayor Nutter created a 15-member oversight board to enact the recommendations. Changing police culture will be hard.
In Philadelphia, the report says, there are far more police shootings than in New York City, which has 34,450 uniformed police, contrasted to Philly's 6,500-person force.
Clearly, better training and supervision is required here.
Next issue: our criminal cops.
Over the past several decades, there have been dozens of cops charged with crimes ranging from shoplifting to drug dealing to sexual assault to murder. This has contributed to a chasm between cops and community, which benefits neither.
Cops complain about the "no-snitch" street culture, but they have a culture just as invidious - the Blue Line of Silence.
Do you remember New York cop Frank Serpico, whose experiences were turned into a 1973 movie starring Al Pacino? The Brooklyn-born Serpico was the first New York cop to testify about widespread corruption in his department. He pointed his finger at his brother officers.
After that, on a drug raid, he was shot in the face and his brother officers, who probably steered him into an ambush, neither backed him up nor called for an ambulance. Serpico had broken the code.
This is not a great selling point for what I am about to propose: The Philadelphia Police Department needs a Serpico. More than one.
Arrow-straight cops tired of having their reputations blackened by the thugs have to step up. What's likely to happen?
"First of all they'll try and discredit them," Serpico tells me from his upstate New York home. "Then they'll try and implicate them in something or other. And then if they persist long enough, they will be so harassed it will blow out their sanity."
Some cops don't come forward because they fear their supervisors will cover it up.
"From all the cops I hear from trying to report," says Serpico, "no matter how high they go, they are told, 'Listen, we can't expose this because it will undermine the public's confidence in police.' They don't understand that confidence is already undermined." There is a "quagmire of putrid flesh in police departments across the country," he says. "Some are mentally instable, they are bullies."
The lid wasn't blown off the garbage pail until Serpico went to the New York Times, which put his story on Page 1.
Given the grief, why did he do it and why should any other cop do it, I ask him.
"Do you want to live with this, work with this kind of trash? It's an honorable profession," says Serpico. "You keep your honor, your dignity. You can face your kids, your community and your country and you save your honor."
Right now, the good cops fear the bad cops instead of the other way around.
If you are an honest officer, sick of the mess, come forward with the goods. If you fear coming forward openly, come to the Daily News as a confidential informant.
Years ago, our columnist Chuck Stone used to protect those accused of crimes by the cops. We will protect whistle-blowing cops from the cops.
Think of it as a patrolman's protection program.
On Twitter: @StuBykofsky