What do A-Rod and Jonathan Josey have in common? They’re both still in the game — and neither should be.
A-Rod probably needs no introduction: He’s the once-in-a-lifetime shortstop-turned-third-baseman whose immense physical gifts, it turns out, have been augmented over the years through the use of “performance enhancing drugs” that have given him an edge over his peers. Long story short: He cheated. Major League Baseball announced last week that he was being suspended — but Rodriguez appealed and continues to toil away for the underachieving New York Yankees.
Josey’s got a different story. He’s the Philadelphia police lieutenant (and, let it never go unsaid, former “Sexy Single”) caught on video slugging a woman in the face at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey fired him — but Josey was later cleared of charges in the incident (courtesy of a cop-friendly judge) and this week an arbitrator ruled that Josey should get his job back.
In a just world, both A-Rod and Josey would be on the unemployment line by now.
Here’s the interesting thing: A-Rod actually did very nearly lose his job. Officials with MLB considered an immediate and permanent ban using the commissioner’s little-invoked “best interests of baseball” power. The commissioner, Bud Selig, ultimately decided he didn’t want to risk a showdown with the players union over the issue, and so Rodriguez chugs along for now, getting paid more per game than most Americans make in a year.
Still, that near-miss creates a fantasy: Wouldn’t it be great if Commissioner Ramsey — or, perhaps even Mayor Nutter — had a “best interests of Philly” clause in his job description? We could make the Jonathan Josey problem go away overnight.
And it is a problem. Josey’s return to the force doesn’t just mean that a woman-punching officer is going to carry a badge on the streets once again — public knowledge of that return is also going to fray the always-fragile rapport that this city’s citizens (particularly its minority citizens) have with the department, a fragility that undergirds “no snitching” culture and makes Philadelphia less safe than it should be.
Understand: Civil service rules exist for a reason. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s a good thing that high officials like Nutter and Ramsey can’t just hire and fire on a whim.
But the other 1 percent is a stubborn bit of business: Even when Ramsey fires officers for cause, they very often don’t stay fired. Ninety percent of those fired officers return to the force. So while the Philadelphia Police Department is definitely full of danger-facing heroes like Officer Edward Davies, who was shot this week pursuing a suspect, it also often appears in public to basically be a welfare program for the city’s best-connected thugs.
Too harsh? Too bad.
Ramsey, to his credit, understands the problem.
“It’s very hard to maintain discipline in a police department especially when at every turn you have cases that wind up getting overturned, people brought back, and in many cases for some very, very serious allegations,” Ramsey told NBC10 in May.
So how to solve the problem while still maintaining civil service protections? (Politically speaking, those protections are never going to go away.) That’s where the “best interest of Philadelphia clause” comes in.
Here’s how it would work.
• If the firing of an officer for cause is overturned by an arbitrator, Ramsey would have the power to essentially veto that decision and refuse to rehire the officer.
• But to ensure that arbitrator’s decisions are still usually the final word — and hey, some officers probably are innocent of the charges against them — Ramsey would be officially limited in how often he could use that power: No more than once or twice a year. If the baseball commissioner’s office is any indication, he might not even use the power that often.
• To further ensure that an officer’s rights under civil service rules aren’t too badly infringed, they’d walk away with a big cash payout — say a number equal to the pay they’d have earned before retirement, plus some percentage of their pension. Yes, it sucks that being an awful cop would create a payday opportunity. But City Hall pays a lot of money every year to settle lawsuits against the police. Consider this payout a form of preventive insurance to avoid future lawsuits.
Is this a perfect system? No. Is it even feasible? Harder to say. But it’s an already-imperfect setup that lets Josey return to the force and undermine, by his very presence, public confidence in the character and reputation of Philadelphia Police Department.
In a few months, most likely, A-Rod will leave the game, perhaps forever. And he’s just a baseball player. If he can be made to go away, why can’t we do the same with a bad cop?