From the Editor May 2006
Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson has to go. Now.
The TV was on for background noise while I was reviewing a draft of this issue’s cover package late one recent night. I was reading about doctors who save lives against all sane odds when something about Larry Mendte’s somber tone made me look up. On the screen, I saw footage of a chalk outline, followed by a body bag. Mendte gave the stats—you don’t need to hear them again from me. Suffice it to say: While I was reading about those who heroically stave off epidemics, I was reminded of another type of epidemic in this city. And then, on my screen, came the “doctor” I expected to wage war on this illness, Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. Instead, he said something akin to what he’s said countless times before: “Law enforcement is not going to change anything. It’s not a defeatist attitude; it’s a real attitude … If we had the ability to just stop homicides, then we would.”
The greatest threat to the newfound momentum of America’s Next Great City is our skyrocketing murder rate. Scratch that: The greatest threat is the ineffectual, shrugging response to our murder rate from Commissioner Johnson. Scratch that: The greatest threat is actually the lack of outrage engendered by Johnson’s ineffectual, shrugging response.
Well, I’m outraged. Johnson is in over his head running the police department in Philadelphia, and has got to go. In New York, Miami and Los Angeles, violent crime is at historic lows. Police in those cities know what works: the same strategies that lowered the murder rate here under former commissioner John Timoney. Tactics like Comstat (-computer–generated crime data used to strategically deploy manpower), community policing, attention to “broken windows” and nuisance crimes (turns out that in New York, countless subway turnstile jumpers were wanted for more serious crimes; plus, attention to small problems sends the message of police presence), and leadership that fights for enough cops on the streets. (Philadelphia is down some 700 officers since 2003.)
Johnson, a career Philly cop, has failed to inspire confidence and has gotten away from the cutting-edge policing that we know works. Given the epidemic, how about a second opinion? There are plenty of candidates who could wage war on murder more effectively. Locally, there’s Dexter Green, former deputy police commissioner and head of police in the public schools, or Timoney acolyte Bill Colarulo. Nationwide, there’s Robert Parker in Miami-Dade, or former Boston commissioner Paul Evans. Come to think of it, luring Timoney back to town isn’t a bad idea.
I’ve got nothing personal against Sylvester Johnson. But look at it this way: If our police department were a sports team, his leadership would result in outraged phone calls to sports talk radio demanding his ouster. (Just imagine if, after a string of losses, Andy Reid said, “There’s really nothing I can do.”) Shouldn’t we be at least as outraged about such a lackadaisical response to people dying?
OVER THE PAST 20 years, Bill Cramer’s photography has graced these pages a whopping 306 times. His pictures tell stories in and of themselves. His shot of a snarling Pat Croce aboard a pirate ship 10 years ago remains the best evocation of the subject’s renegade soul; his recent portrait of a hooded, ruminating John DeBella spoke as eloquently as any arrangement of words about the vicissitudes of mortality and middle age. In this issue, Newtown Square’s Cramer, 42, brings his singular eye to our Top Doctors package. “I wanted to get the doctors out of their offices, to do this in a way other than doctors in lab coats next to an MRI machine,” he says. “Since the prevention of many diseases comes from lifestyle choices, this year’s approach seemed natural and fun.”