Will Philly’s Next Mayor Stand Up to Bad Cops?

The frontrunners' records and relationships raise questions about their ability to discipline police in the wake of Baltimore.

From L to R: Anthony Williams, Lynne Abraham and Jim Kenney | Photos by Jeff Fusco

From L to R: Anthony Williams, Lynne Abraham and Jim Kenney | Photos by Jeff Fusco

More than 1,000 people turned out last week for the “Philly Is Baltimore” protest, which organizers hoped would highlight the parallels between the police-involved deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Brandon Tate-Brown in Philadelphia. The rally also came not long after the U.S. Department of Justice issued a critical report on police shootings in Philadelphia.

How is the strained relationship between police and community members affecting the city’s mayoral race? And which candidate would do the best job of cracking down on bad cops?

David Gambacorta has a must-read story in today’s Daily News examining those questions.

The three frontrunners in the mayor’s race — former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, former City Councilman Jim Kenney and state Sen. Anthony Williams — all say they would end stop-and-frisk, a policing tactic that critics say unfairly targets African-Americans and Latinos.

The candidates also all have ideas on how to repair the relationship between cops and residents. Abraham backs the recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Justice in its recent report. Kenney wants police recruits to learn African-American history. And Williams says he would make sure that officers who use racial slurs would get fired.

But some say Abraham’s record as district attorney casts doubt on her ability to hold police accountable. Writes Gambacorta:

Under Abraham, the D.A.’s office was notorious for the way it handled police-involved shootings. Cases dragged for years, and information about the investigations was often hard to come by, especially for families of victims.

When Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey first took over the city’s Police Department in 2008, he told the Daily News he wanted to work with Abraham to speed up the investigations, calling it a “public confidence issue.”

Abraham bristled. “Nobody can tell me how quickly this can be done,” she said at the time.

Kenney, meanwhile, has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, which Team Williams says raises questions about whether he would discipline bad cops.

Kenney … caught heat last week from Al Butler, the spokesman for state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, Kenney’s chief rival in the mayoral race. He singled out John McNesby, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, which endorsed Kenney.

The union — or more specifically, the arbitration process that often overturns Ramsey’s dismissals — is viewed by many as an obstacle to weeding out bad cops.

Each of the mayoral frontrunners has, either explicitly or implicitly, pitched themselves as the best person to tackle police-involved shootings: Abraham because she’s a “tough cookie,” Kenney because he has a relationship with the FOP and could therefore work with the union to achieve reform, and Williams because he would be able to stand up to the FOP since he is not relying on its support.

Williams in recent weeks has distanced himself from the police department, attending the “Philly Is Baltimore” protest and suggesting that he would fire Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey if he refused to end stop-and-frisk. He could stand to benefit from differentiating himself on this issue. According to polls by special interest groups, he is currently trailing Kenney in the mayor’s race.

The fact that the candidates are taking the issue of police reform seriously is a win for the people who marched through Center City last week. But will it make a difference on Election Day? Larry Ceisler, a local political consultant, told Gambacorta, “One would think it would, but I sometimes think that Philadelphia marches to a different drummer.”