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Editorial: Police Discipline

Cool under pressure

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and Mayor Nutter should be applauded for their swift response and deft handling of the videotaped beating of three shooting suspects.

Too bad the same can't be said for the local police union boss and the Rev. Al Sharpton's followers.

Two weeks after a group of police officers were caught on tape kicking and punching the suspects, Ramsey fired four of them, suspended three others, and demoted another officer for their roles in the incident.

With Nutter by his side, Ramsey took quick and firm action - a departure from the handling of similar incidents in recent years. The response sent the right message to the public and to the Police Department: Cops must uphold the law, not break it.

The beatings caught on tape by a local television news helicopter were played and replayed on cable and network news. The coverage cast Philadelphia cops in a negative light once again, and presented the new mayor and commissioner with their first test in a crisis situation.

From the start, Nutter and Ramsey showed strong leadership. Ramsey said upfront that the video looked bad. Both said excessive force wouldn't be tolerated.

In interviews with the national media and locally, Ramsey and Nutter set the right tone. While not excusing the actions, both also provided context for the beatings.

The incident occurred just two days after police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski was shot and killed while trying to stop three bank robbers. Officers were on edge hunting for a fugitive wanted in the killing, while trying to cope with the loss of the third cop killed in the line of duty in two years.

No question, police have a difficult job. But when they cross the line, they need to be held accountable.

Instead, John J. McNesby, president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police, has called the firings and suspensions a "rush to judgment" and plans to fight Ramsey's decision.

Conversely, Rev. Sharpton's supporters protested Ramsey's decision not to fire every officer involved, while Sharpton praised the commissioner's moves.

The cops involved in the beatings will get due process in grand jury proceedings expected by District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham. Meanwhile, Ramsey didn't need to watch more video to know what he needed to do.