The two candidates for Philadelphia district attorney both say they would prosecute police for on-duty shootings if the evidence pointed to criminal conduct. That would represent a departure from usual practice: The last time a Philadelphia officer was criminally charged for an on-duty shooting was 18 years ago.
The comments from Republican Beth Grossman and Democrat Larry Krasner follow reports about Philadelphia Police Officer Cyrus Mann, who shot three people in three years, one fatally in the back — then was fired and rehired through arbitration. Neither candidate was willing to discuss Mann's case specifically.
Grossman, who has won the endorsements of numerous police organizations and unions, said that if elected she would be open to working with others on police discipline reform. "Police officers who commit crimes are just adding nothing to public trust, [increasing] divisiveness and distrust between the community and the Police Department, and it does no good," said Grossman, 49. "So, I have no problem" prosecuting police.
Krasner expressed frustration with the arbitration system, which he called "toothless," and said that if elected, he might be more aggressive in prosecuting law-breaking officers as a way to hold them accountable.
"If you have a police department where there is no real discipline and police are told by the repeated decisions of arbitrators that you can do pretty much anything you want and you'll keep your job, that places a prosecutor in a position where the prosecutor has to think about whether it's necessary to charge crimes where there is criminal conduct, just because it's the only form of deterrence available," said Krasner, 56, a civil rights attorney who has never worked as a prosecutor.
Grossman, who spent 21½ years as a prosecutor in the District Attorney's Office, said she has prosecuted police during her years in the office, but not for shootings. From 2007 to August of this year, 443 police-involved shootings are listed on the Police Department's internet site, none resulting in criminal charges. The last on-duty officer charged in a shooting was Christopher DiPasquale, in 1999. Two judges dismissed the charges, preventing a trial.
"Some of those shootings include accidental discharges, suicides, dog shootings, and shootings where some police officers were shot and injured and in some cases shot and killed," Grossman said. "Every shooting and its accompanying evidence must be looked at individually."
With Democrats holding a 7-1 edge in voter registration in the city, Krasner is widely considered the favorite to win the Nov. 7 general election.
Mann's case, which the Inquirer and Daily News chronicled in two articles in August and September, is hardly unique in its use of arbitration to restore an officer to the force. The arbitration system, which has been used to settle labor disputes within the Police Department since the early 1970s, has gained a reputation for being the avenue that fired officers use to get their badges and guns back.
In the decade from 2006 until early last year, 73 Philadelphia officers were fired and filed grievances, according to a review of public records. Of those, 46 officers were rehired through arbitration, and 27 were not, the records show.
Cases involving officers who were fired and then rehired after appearing before independent arbitrators include:
Mayor Kenney said reforming the arbitration system would be difficult.
"We believe the chances of winning any additional reform on dismissed officers being rehired through arbitration is incredibly small because that reform would have to be made in the [Fraternal Order of Police's] contract, which, in accordance with state law, is also decided through arbitration," Kenney said.