A retired Philadelphia police captain with a reputation for controversy and the mayor of Chester, Pa. were among those who described police realities and potential reforms to a crowd of about 20, yesterday, April 12, at a symposium on community policing sponsored by Democracy Unplugged.
The event was held at Swarthmore Borough Hall on a beautiful, sunny Sunday spring afternoon.
The captain, Ray Lewis, made international headlines with his association with Occupy Wall Street. He said those who run police departments suffer from a “John Wayne syndrome” which affects hiring decisions. This leads to officers not inclined to maintain good community relations.
He said police applicants are screened with the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory which tests for, among other things, sensitivity and empathy.
Lewis said if the applicant scores high on sensitivity and empathy he is not hired.
He also said training is poorly prioritized with almost all of it directed towards physical fitness, firearms and unarmed combat.
“Police work is 95 percent social work,” he said.
He stressed the importance of good training officers and said that dispute mediation and stress management should be emphasized. Lewis, who served 19 of his 26 years in inner city Philadelphia, said that his training officer was a womanizing, brutal, drunken thief. He said that just the nature of the job hardens one.
Lewis encouraged video recording police encounters by passersby.
“Good cops will love being recorded,” he said albeit he said praise has to accompany such recordings.
Lewis said that he believed that unlike in the United Kingdom, American police need to carry firearms.
He said his support for Occupy Wall Street came from his suspicion that most billionaires are lawless sociopaths.
Lewis was wearing his captain’s uniform which got him so much grief during the OWS demonstrations.
Chester Mayor John Linder said 533 guns have been confiscated from criminals in his crime-ridden city since he took office in 2012.
“People are solving problems with guns,” he said.
Linder also took issue with certain shibboleths regarding diversity. He said that 24 of the 100 officers that serve his predominantly black city are African-Americans with five being Hispanic and the rest being white.
“My goal is to get police officers, good police officers,” he said. “My view is if we get people who reflect the hue, fine, but quality comes first.”
He thought the racial turmoil over recent incidents is overblown.
“I hear this all the time ‘what about Ferguson?’ I say what about Chester?”
Linder who as a young man took part in civil rights era protests expressed the opinion that these outcries are cyclical.
“How do you get rid of Fergusons? Get responsible police.”
He noted the Chester Police Department has had very few allegations of using excessive force.
“If you are professional, I’ll back you 100 percent,” he said. If you are not professional I’m going to deal with you 100 percent.”
Linder said that the urban environment is not as stable as it used to be.
“Calls come in too quick,” he said. “There is no time to sit down and make a friend.”
Swarthmore Police Chief Brian Craig spoke regarding policing in the suburbs.
Craig, a former Philadelphia police officer, said what he found to be a shocking difference was parking meters.
“In my first six months, 50 percent of my time was dealing with parking meters,” he said.
He said police work has gotten more dangerous than it was when he started in 1971. He cited drugs, the 9/11 attacks and the Columbine High School massacre.
He noted that the local police followed procedure regarding the 1999 school massacre setting up a perimeter as they were trained. The procedure, however, failed to account for the killings still occurring inside. Craig said the procedure has now been changed.
Craig emphasized the importance of community relations. He said that on the 25th anniversary of Philadelphia Columbia Avenue race riots, one of the local TV news stations appeared to be trying to stir the pot for an encore. He said, however, community outreach stopped it.
Regarding budget matters, Craig noted that school districts get their requests in first and overwhelmingly get the bigger piece of the pie.
William Taylor Reil, a constitutional scholar, warned of widespread ignorance of the Constitution among law enforcement. He said, for instance, that the Pennsylvania constitution made the sheriff the highest law enforcement officer in the county, a circumstance that is routinely ignored. He noted that county sheriff is an elected office unlike most police officials.
Reil also took issue with the term “law enforcement officer” having replaced “peace officer.”
“Law enforcement means don’t question just do what it says,” he said.
Libertarian activist Darren Wolfe spoke on community policing. He said privately run police departments could save money and be more effective. He cited as examples mall security guards and security companies hired by gated communities.
The moderator was David Easlea and the introduction was made by Bob Small.