Philly’s Fight Against Corruption Gets Its Heroes

The dream team: Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman from the Daily News, Charles Ramsey and Seth Williams

Rumor has it Philly Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey might move back home to Chicago. Ramsey came to Philly by way of Chicago (with a stop in D.C.) in what seems to be an ongoing public-servant exchange program with the Windy City. But the Chicago Sun-Times’s Fran Spielman quoted “a source close to Ramsey” last week:

“The Chicago Police Department is his home department in his home town. Who wouldn’t love that opportunity?  … If [Mayor] Rahm [Emanuel] called and asked him to become superintendent, he would.”

Though Ramsey won’t comment, his departure would be a shame.

Ramsey’s tenure has been marked by admirable tenacity in confronting corruption in the Philly Police Department. Last summer, Ramsey detailed a plan to fight corruption within the Department. At a news conference, he said:

“One officer that commits a corrupt act is too many. And it tarnishes the reputation of every single member of this department. And it’s got to stop. It’s got to stop.”

The plan, which included massive overhaul of many department rules, got a miraculous thumbs-up from the FOP.

A few weeks ago, Ramsey’s hackles were raised by Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman of the Daily News, who together won the Pulitzer Prize last year for a 10-month series exposing rogue narcotics cops. The two reporters stayed on the cop beat, resulting in further investigations and another dismissal of a corrupt cop. A March 2nd article by the pair suggested that relations with Ramsey had become strained. He told the reporters:

“”[The officer] will not be criminally charged because you blew the investigation. The shame of this is that we weren’t able to get him criminally because of the fact that the story ran.”

Philadelphia, remember, is the hometown of Frank “Cummerbund Nightstick” Rizzo. It’s also a city drenched in cynicism about the future of its daily tabloid. (How many times have you heard the DN was going under?) It’s genuinely heartwarming to see the police commissioner and a pair of investigative journalists spar over who’s going to hit a corrupt cop harder.

That got me thinking: Maybe Ramsey could stick around and fight the good fight with Laker and Ruderman. And maybe they could get some help from Philly’s new district attorney, Seth Williams.

Williams, you might recall, replaced longtime D.A. Lynne Abraham, who defended her police officers as though she’d given birth to them. Dogged in her pursuit of neighborhood criminals and Catholic Church officials, she often seemed unable to take a critical look at her own house.

Williams came on board with a more broad-minded, big-picture agenda. And unlike his predecessor, he has little interest in partisan defense of municipal employees. Last fall, when two corrupt officers were arrested, Williams stated:

“Police corruption will not be tolerated. We will root out bad cops and we will prosecute them for the disgraceful thugs and scum that they are.”

Ramsey joined Williams in his condemnation:

“This is another embarassment for our department, another in a long list, unfortunately.”

Seeing them pound their chests about corruption made me hopeful. I know politicians say whatever they think people want to hear, but I have a superhero fantasy of Ramsey, Williams, Ruderman and Laker as a Philly-fied Fantastic Four. There’s a caveat, though: Ramsey is going to have to stick around a while longer to make it happen. So I hope he doesn’t get that phone call from irascible Rahm. “The Fantastic Three” doesn’t have the same ring.