Deputy Commissioner Stephen Johnson of the Philadelphia Police Department doesn’t encourage private citizens to file complaints against their local patrol officers.
But if a complaint is warranted, a civilian shouldn’t hesitate to file one. And police should accept the complaint with professionalism and integrity, regardless of where it’s filed, Johnson said during the Dec. 15 meeting of the 7th Police District Advisory Council.
Johnson heads the PPD’s Office of Professional Responsibility, commonly known as the internal affairs unit.
“We police the police,” said Johnson, who has served 34 years on the police force, including many years as an officer and commander in the department’s Highway Patrol.
He also served as patrol inspector for the South Division when Capt. Joseph Zaffino was a district commander there. Zaffino now commands the Far Northeast’s 7th district.
“We owe it to the public to rid ourselves of bad police officers,” Johnson said. “We have a responsibility to maintain the sanctity, integrity and dignity of the police department.”
Since Commissioner Charles Ramsey took over the department four years ago, he has fired more than 100 officers for criminal activity or violations of department policy. Anecdotally, Johnson believes that Ramsey has a higher dismissal rate than any prior commissioner.
But not all complaints against police end up in the commissioner’s office.
There are three general types of complaints against police: lack of service, verbal abuse and physical abuse. The first two types can be adjudicated by the division commander (Inspector John Heath for the Northeast Division) as long as the accused officer hasn’t been the subject of any other complaints within the previous two years.
On the other hand, officers who receive multiple complaints or who are accused of physical abuse will have to answer to investigators in Johnson’s unit and the commissioner’s office.
Investigations could result in firing, suspension or disqualification of the officer from a promotion.
There are multiple ways that civilians can complain about an officer. They can go to the nearest police district and ask the officer at the front desk for a complaint form. By department policy, the officer must provide the blank form no questions asked.
Also, civilians may go to the Web site www.phillypolice.com and file a complaint electronically. If they have a problem with an officer in the street, they may opt to call 911 and ask that a patrol supervisor come to the scene.
In any case, the civilian should have the name and/or badge number of the officer involved in the complaint. Any officer must provide his or her name and badge number upon request, Johnson said. But it’s the civilian’s responsibility to write down the information.
The good news is that while the police department received more than 600 complaints in 2011, that figure represents a decline from prior years. Complaints are down 44 percent in the 7th district, Johnson said.
In addition to hearing Johnson’s presentation, the 7th PDAC presented Officer Thomas Carpino with the district’s Officer of the Month award for interrupting a burglary in progress and arresting two repeat offenders.
The incident occurred Nov. 4 at 1:40 a.m. at a restaurant on the 11600 block of Roosevelt Blvd. Carpino was assigned to a special burglary detail that night in response to a series of crimes in the area.
Carpino saw the two suspects prowling outside a row of businesses on the block. Then one of the males allegedly used a rock to smash a window at the New Boulevard Diner. Carpino ran across Roosevelt Boulevard as the males were attempting to climb into the diner through the broken window.
When Carpino identified himself as an officer, one of the men tried to run away, but Carpino captured him in the parking lot. The second man tried to walk away from the scene in a different direction, but other patrol officers arrested him.
According to Zaffino, the two men had more than 60 prior arrests combined and had been involved in recent thefts from a nearby trucking facility. The thefts were valued at tens of thousands of dollars. ••EndFragment