More than two dozen people testified Tuesday during a City Council hearing about police conduct on a force that has seen 15 officers arrested since March 2009.
The witnesses in the six-hour hearing before Council's Committee on Public Safety included police officials such as Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and grieving parents Timothy and Pamela Goode, relatives of former Mayor W. Wilson Goode whose 24-year-old son was shot and killed two years ago by a police officer.
Pamela Goode testified that in March 2008, as her son Timothy Jerome "Tee" Goode ran from police in Germantown, Officer Anthony Avery shot him twice in the back, killing him.
Police at the time said that the shooting was in self-defense and that Timothy Jerome Goode had trained his gun on undercover narcotics officers.
Pamela Goode, a school district employee for 18 years, with her husband, a labor foreman at the Philadelphia Housing Authority, at her side, testified that their son "never gave us a day of trouble, not one," and that they had raised him to be a "respectful young man."
"Whatever it was," she said of her son's actions that night, "it didn't justify shooting him in the back. My heart will never be the same."
"I want to see Anthony Avery behind bars where he belongs," she continued, with Ramsey, who had testified earlier, sitting behind her. "If the shoe was on the other foot, I wouldn't be here right now. I'd be visiting my son in jail."
Council members Donna Reed Miller and Curtis Jones Jr. had called the hearing. Jones called the current climate between police and the community they serve an urgent matter.
Miller said the committee would review the notes from the hearing and determine next steps, which will include more public meetings.
According to city officials, there were 725 civilian complaints against police officers between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30. Last year, there were 697 complaints.
Every witness acknowledged that there are plenty of good officers on the city's 6,500-plus police force, who do hard and dangerous work. But several asked for more transparency in Internal Affairs investigations and their disposition, for an end to stop-and-frisk, and for more officers to be reprimanded, fired, and convicted in cases of misconduct.
Since March 2009, 15 officers have been arrested, including two on murder charges stemming from off-duty shootings. One officer was fired this year after admitting that he fabricated a story about being shot; the officer had shot himself. In September, three police officers were arrested on federal charges of robbing a drug dealer. And Kenneth Crockett, on the force 26 years, was charged with stealing $825 from a Northeast Philadelphia bar.
The department also has faced a string of tragedies, with five officers killed in the line of duty since 2008.
Ramsey noted that just last week, an officer was shot in the shoulder during a foot chase in North Philadelphia.
"This has been a very challenging time for the Philadelphia police," he said. "The vast majority of our officers do their jobs very well, but we're here today to discuss the few officers who unfortunately because of their actions discredit the department."
Ramsey said he was looking to implement thorough background checks on recruits, including interviewing family members, neighbors, and friends, and possibly polygraph tests. He has also asked the Civil Service Commission to raise the recruitment age from 19 to 21 and to require that recruits have at least three years of driving experience and an associate degree or 60 college credits, with a minimum grade-point average of 2.0. The goal, he said, is to obtain respectful, professional, high-quality officers.
Ramsey pointed to 38 people added to the Internal Affairs bureau to investigate complaints more quickly; a task force involving the bureau, the FBI, and the District Attorney's Office to look into police misconduct; increased community meetings; and enhanced officer training on "scenario-driven" ethics.
"It's putting officers in situations where they have to use their heads," Ramsey said. "They have to think, they have to take a deep breath and step back in order to de-escalate a situation. That probably is the most important thing we're doing right now."
Ramsey also said the department was making it easier to file complaints. There is now a hotline that goes straight to his office for people to anonymously report police misconduct. People can also file a complaint online at phillypolice.com, and forms will be available at city agencies, such as libraries and recreation centers, he said.
Also testifying at the hearing were representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police, Police Advisory Commission, Town Watch, the ACLU, community organizations, clergy, and several people who said they had been cursed at, harassed, or beaten by police officers.
Abdus Sabur, gray-haired in a suit and bow tie, appeared on behalf of his son, 29-year-old Askia Sabur. At the start of the Labor Day weekend, Askia Sabur was arrested outside a Chinese takeout in West Philadelphia by baton-wielding police officers, an incident caught on videotape and posted on YouTube.
Sabur faced two counts of aggravated assault, resisting arrests, and related offenses. One case has been dismissed because one of the officers involved, Jimmy Leocal, had been repeatedly unable to testify because of an ongoing investigation by the District's Attorney's Office. The other officer, Donyule Williams, had been cleared of wrongdoing by the District Attorney's Office, and his case against Sabur is headed to trial.
Sabur, who received a broken arm and a gash to the back of the head during the arrest, has maintained that police had no cause to arrest him. He said that he was waiting for his food when Williams told him to clear the corner and that the officers used excessive force.
"If any one of you have sons," Abdus Sabur testified, his voice quaking as he turned toward Ramsey and officers with him, "and your sons are beaten down by those supposed to protect, tell me how you'd feel. You people beat my child down and think he's supposed to accept it. Something has to be done. We can't live like this."