No, the city's top cop hasn't lost his mind.
Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey absolutely took the right step in dismissing an officer accused of participating in fraud schemes designed to bilk the city and state out of property taxes on real estate transactions.
The accusations against Elaine P. Thomas represent one more piece of crud thrown at a Police Department that for several years now has stumbled from one alleged act of impropriety by officers to another - from dealing drugs to shaking down convenience-store operators to sucker-punching defenseless women in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Ramsey is trying desperately to restore a long-missing reputation of integrity to a force that in some Philadelphia neighborhoods is considered just another gang to avoid, rather than a protector that serves the public's interest. Ramsey is trying to get his officers' attention, trying to get them to understand he's fed up.
In recent articles on how records are falsified to steal houses, The Inquirer reported that Thomas avoided paying transfer taxes on two houses by claiming the women she purchased them from were both her mother. She also did not pay taxes on a deed transfer involving a man she listed as her father. He was not. Nor did she pay taxes on a house she claimed to have purchased from a woman who had died the year before.
In two of these cases, the notary involved has pleaded guilty to forgery and conspiracy. Ramsey also sent Thomas' case to the District Attorney's Office, but it has so far declined to prosecute.
The Guardian Civic League, an association of African American officers, is defending Thomas, a 15-year veteran of the force. Guardian President Rochelle Bilal said, "We think Ramsey has lost his mind." Bilal said Ramsey wasn't as harsh with officers accused of bigger crimes, pointing out the taxes Thomas is accused of not paying total only $600.
If the Guardians' point is that Ramsey should come down harder on other officers believed to be involved in criminal acts, it is well taken. But that doesn't mean the commissioner has somehow lost it for wanting to make an example of Thomas. Her actions cannot be dismissed with a hand slap. Her alleged behavior reinforces the very visible attitude on the part of too many officers that they are above the law.
That doesn't mean the entire Police Department is corrupt. Most of the force's officers are brave, dedicated public servants who would never put themselves in a position to have their integrity or professionalism questioned. But they know, too, that some of their peers are committing shameful acts.
Perhaps it's time to bring back the Office of Public Integrity, which from 1997 to 2004 probed allegations of police misconduct. The department balked at the integrity office's criticism of lax discipline of officers. Ramsey may balk, too, at having an outsider involved in police internal affairs. But he must keep in mind what's best for the city, and his force.