Philadelphia police have so seriously failed to control rogue officers that an outside agency should take charge of the disciplinary system, a department official told a judge yesterday. The Philadelphia Inquirer says the 50-page report filed with U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell, who is overseeing changes promised in a 1996 civil-rights settlement with the city, is one of the most damning recent criticisms of the department.
The responsibility for discipline rests with the police commissioner. The report cited incidents in which the commissioner intervened to soften discipline. William Colarulo, a department spokesman, said Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson “takes issue with certain aspects of that report.”
The report, written by former state prosecutor Ellen Green-Ceisler, said: “The disciplinary system in the Philadelphia Police Department remains fundamentally ineffective, inadequate and unpredictable.” Green-Ceisler, the department’s integrity and accountability officer, called for “an entity, independent of the Philadelphia Police Department …to review disciplinary matters, determine penalties, and enforce disciplinary system guidelines.”
The report cited 50 of the 1,237 cases handled by the police disciplinary system between January 2000 and May 2002. Among the cases: three vice squad officers were caught making illegal arrests, and “routinely prepared and submitted false police reports to support other illegal arrests.” Prosecutors have withdrawn charges in numerous cases handled by the three. Two officers were given written reprimands, a light punishment. They are still assigned to the unit. The third received a two-day suspension and was transferred.
Two officers speeding down a one-way street caused a five-car accident, seriously injuring several civilians. The supervising sergeant and lieutenant ordered a subordinate to falsify the police report. The officers were given reprimands.
“You look at the large picture, it’s very troubling,” said University of Pennsylvania law professor David Rudovsky. Rudovsky was the lead attorney for the NAACP and Latino groups that won a 1996 agreement after the city’s last major police-corruption scandal. That agreement established the Integrity and Accountability Office and allowed a federal court to monitor the department. Rudovsky said the report was likely to provide ammunition for lawyers planning to sue the department on behalf of clients alleging they were abused by police.