In our new feature, The Real Deal, we’re talking to people in Philadelphia who will only speak to us with a clear agreement of anonymity. For the first installment, a veteran Philadelphia police officer talks about the Center City gay-bashing, stop-and-frisk, and his biggest problem with Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
Let’s start with the case everyone has been talking about: the Center City gay-bashing. A lot of people were demanding an arrest by the middle of last week. Here it is Monday, and we still don’t have a report of an arrest. What gives?
Because there are so many people involved. It’s a huge thing, possibly up to 15 attackers, and you have to figure out who actually did what. The actual assault is not on video. If it were, it would be easier to narrow it down. You need to figure out who threw punches, who called him a faggot. What are you going to do, charge them all with conspiracy to commit simple assault? It’s convoluted.
How does all of the public pressure affect an investigation like this?
This isn’t up to the police at this point. It’s a pain in the ass. This story has gone international. You have to dot your I’s and cross your T’s. You don’t want a case like this if you are a detective. It’s going to come down to the District Attorney making a decision. And if the victims are having a hard time ID’ing — I’m not sure who hit me, I was hit from behind — then you really have a problem.
It seems that the publicity that the story has received also gave them a leg up in terms of preparing themselves, getting attorneys before the cops started knocking on doors.
Absolutely. You have everybody coming in with lawyers, all lawyered up. They’re sitting there with counsel. You don’t have to answer that. To be honest with you, a lot of our investigations hinge on people being stupid enough to say things to the cops.
The attack is definitely not on video?
If the defense attorneys are claiming they have a copy, OK. But we do not. I did hear that they’re saying they have a video.
What of the early report indicating that they were trying to claim self defense?
You have two little guys who are gonna pick a fight with a mob, a bunch of meatheads? I haven’t seen that happen.
While the gay-bashing has everyone fired up, there’s been virtually no talk of the pregnant woman shot in the face in Frankford and killed, with her murder suspect being identified but still at large.
That’s one of the things we talk about. This is a case that is terrible, a gay-bashing in a city like Philadelphia, which is very friendly to the gay community. But then you have a woman shot in the face and because it didn’t happen in Rittenhouse Square, you don’t hear about it. What’s more important? But we don’t control the news cycle, we don’t control what sells.
Is it fair to say that investigations into more serious crimes are faltering or dragging on due to the amount of work being put into solving the gay-bashing?
Well, the guys covering this crime also handle gunpoint robberies and shootings in North Philly. Are some cases suffering because of all this work being done? Yes. You have two of the best detectives for shootings and robberies now handling a gay-bashing.
From the police department’s perspective, the world is looking at Philadelphia to solve this case. If someone gets shot at 15th and York, how is the police department going to handle it? We need our guys working this case. It’s a PR nightmare.
Last week, I spoke with a longtime public defender who said she wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the gay-bashing suspects didn’t get any jail time at all. Do you agree?
I absolutely do. I’ve heard plenty of people saying that we shouldn’t even be handling this case, because it’s a simple assault, since we don’t have the hate crime laws like that.
They got punched in the face and beat up. That’s not something we’re handling normally. If Victor Fiorillo got punched in the face, it’s simple assault. You would fill out a private criminal complaint.
We have a pretty strict policy here of what’s aggravated and simple. Guy gets punched in the face and gets a tooth knocked out, simple assault, a private criminal complaint. If we had to handle every single fight involving black eyes and knocked-out teeth, we wouldn’t have time to do everything else.
Unless he was hit with a pipe or a weapon, we’re pretty lax when it comes to aggravated over simple assault.
Is there as much political interference with high-profile arrests as our cynicism and cops shows would suggest?
Pols do show up places, yes. Do they try and interfere and talk to us? No, they do not. They just show up and say hello. Now, if someone they know gets arrested, they might ask what happened. But it’s not like 20 or 30 years ago. What’s a pol going to do for you? Too many people know things. If Nutter’s friend gets arrested, guess what? That’s just the way it is.
We’ve been hearing a lot lately about cops freaking out when citizens try to get them on video. What’s your take on that?
People are allowed to videotape you. You’re a public servant. Deal with it. But you can’t be afraid to do your job just because of a video. If you’re fighting with somebody and they are punching you, punch them in the face. You need to win. People see a punch and say, Oh my God!, but if you need to punch someone or hit them with a nightstick, you need to do it. That said, if you kick someone in the face, you deserve to lose your job.
Another story that came out last week was the one about the Geekadelphia editor who got beat up when he tried to intervene in a domestic assault. A lot of commenters and armchair quarterbacks said he should have stayed away, that you should never get in the middle of a domestic assault. Is that the right advice?
No. If my sister was being beat up by her boyfriend, I would hope somebody would jump in and help her out. There comes a time when you have to get involved. I don’t have a problem with what he did. I think it’s pretty noble.
In your work, how necessary is stop-and-frisk, really?
I’ve never understood it. Just because you are a guy standing on a certain corner, that’s not reason to stop somebody. Even if you find a gun on him, you still have to articulate in court why you stopped them. If you’re a good enough cop, you don’t need that. You know how to make a proper stop.
What Philly neighborhood gets a bad rap in terms of being a dangerous neighborhood?
Kensington. You see some prostitutes and some drug guys walking around, so if you equate that with danger, then I guess it’s dangerous. But I could walk down Kensington Avenue all day and night and not care less.
Now, certain neighborhoods in Brewerytown are downright sketchy. 27th to 31st Street, around Cecil B. Moore. You walk around 30th and Thompson in broad daylight, and you have to look over your shoulder. The mail carrier should be given a medal. And Lower Frankford is pretty bad, too. Not well lit. Shitty houses.
Are guns as much of a problem as gun control activists would like us to believe?
There are a lot of guns. There are a lot of gun people that complain it’s not the guns, it’s the people. But, yeah, there are so many guns, it’s not even funny.
What do you think of your boss?
I wish he would put better people in higher positions. But because of the union, he is screwed. There are just so many people who are so out of touch and just kiss ass. You have a lot of non-cops at the top.
But he’s doing a great job. He was a cop, and he knows the game politically.
Everybody’s happy because they’re getting raises. But only 1 percent of the police department is doing actual police work. The rest are just trying to stay out of the papers and collect their checks and take a retirement and go home.