After finishing his shift at 2 a.m., Philadelphia police officer Hashaam Choudri returned to his apartment, poured himself a glass of vodka, and waited for the prostitute he’d ordered to arrive. “Getting a party started,” Choudri invited a friend in a text. When two women arrived, he paid the agreed-upon amount of $200, and one of them performed oral sex on him. The encounter led to an internal affairs investigation, which sustained charges against Choudri of soliciting a prostitute and association with a known criminal. An internal board said he should be fired, but an arbitrator overturned the decision and Choudri is back on the force.
Choudri’s case is among 170 previously confidential police arbitration opinions and settlements that the Philadelphia Inquirer obtained through a Right-to-Know request. Such records, which rarely see the light of day, show behind-the-scenes machinations that enable officers to regain their jobs and ranks after they’ve been fired or demoted. An analysis of the cases, which date from 2011 to 2019, shows that the Fraternal Order of Police has successfully fought to have police discipline overturned or reduced about 70 percent of the time. Among the 170 cases, the city has paid 26 officers at least $1.2 million in back pay and other payments. In addition, the city has paid nearly $4 million to settle federal lawsuits involving 15 of the officers. To the FOP, the arbitration system is a useful defense against bosses who haphazardly fire cops when they’re accused of misconduct. To police officials, the fact that arbitrators have the final call on discipline is a maddening obstacle to cleaning up the department. “Philly is not a bad police department at all. It’s good. But it will never realize its full potential as long as you have a system in place like this,” said former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.