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STORY: Police struggle with court schedules

“How are you expected to be everywhere at once?”

On peak days, one out of seven Philadelphia police officers is subpoenaed to appear in a courtroom for trial.

And routinely, the same officer is summoned to more than one courtroom - at the same time.

In a city with 6,600 officers, there is no computerized program to flag the conflicts. As a result, cases die simply because the police witnesses fail to appear.

According to Police Inspector Christopher Flacco, the department has made strides in reducing such dismissals. In one change, police must log on to a fingerprint reader when they enter courtrooms, making it easier to track them.

This way, Flacco said, "the judges can find out exactly where they are. Then we can get word to the judges and say, 'Don't throw that case out - [Officer] Smith's only two floors away. We'll get him up to you.' "

But that doesn't solve the problem entirely.

Officers may be scheduled to be at court hearings inside neighborhood police districts and, simultaneously, downtown at the Criminal Justice Center.

On some days, police find themselves snowed under by subpoenas.

"That happens all the time," said veteran Officer Jeffrey Hannan. "I myself had 17 at one time."

In 2003, Hannan was part of a narcotics team that arrested a West Philadelphia man, Saeed Clark, on charges of dealing crack.

Clark's preliminary hearing was delayed when Hannan didn't show.

Commonwealth not ready, the docket notes. "P/O Hannan at 55th and Pine and at CJC trial."

"How are you expected to be everywhere at once?" Hannan asked.

Ultimately, after more than two years of delays, the District Attorney's Office dropped the drug charges against Clark.

The drug case was just one of four narcotics, robbery, and gun cases Clark beat one after another. His run ended this year when a jury convicted him of a drive-by murder with an AK-47. He's serving a life sentence in that case and awaiting trial in a second murder case.

Hannan said it was troubling to learn that cases had fallen apart for bureaucratic reasons.

"Sometimes you don't know the case was tossed," he said. "If you take a lot of pride in your job, it is upsetting to see someone back on the street after you make what you thought was a good arrest. When you ask about it, you're told, 'Oh, it was dismissed because you were somewhere else.' "   - Craig R. McCoy