Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Philadelphia Story: When the Cops are Crooks

By Nicholas Stix

May 3, 2002
Toogood Reports/A Different Drummer

Part I of a Two-Part Series
Part II: “Solving Philly Crime with an Eraser: The “Good Irishman” and the Race Man

What do you call someone who plays an impromptu game of "show-and-tell," by passing a pistol around a room full of nine and ten-year-olds, and upon getting it back, re-loads it, drops it, and while picking it up, fires the weapon, coming within an inch of killing a child?

And what do you call someone who habitually lies about crime, in misrepresenting felonies as misdemeanors, or even as non-crimes?

In Philadelphia, in both cases, the answer is, "Officer."

Later this month, Officer Vanessa Carter-Moragne (also spelled Carter-Morange), of the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), will have a Board of Inquiry hearing. On February 6, Office Carter-Moragne, 39, grazed ten-year-old James Reeves in the cheek when she accidentally fired her service weapon in James' classroom. James received five stitches at Temple University Children's Hospital.

In a world of defined-down standards, I suppose we should be satisfied that the shooting wasn't deliberate, and that there were no fatalities.

So many things stink about this incident, it's hard to know where to begin. Officer Carter-Morange, a police officer since 1996, violated every rule of gun safety, including those imposed by the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia public schools. The second of the universal gun safety rules enumerated at the Americans for Gun Safety web site, is "Treat every firearm as if it is loaded." Always. One of the many implications of the foregoing rule, is that there is no playing "show-and-tell" with a firearm.

The incident occurred at the Imani Education Circle Charter School. Because Imani is a charter school, Philadelphia's public school rules prohibiting drawing guns in school (in non-emergency situations) don't apply. Thus, Officer Carter-Morange didn't violate any school (as opposed to PPD) rules, because there weren't any to break. Imani Circle Charter is a racially segregated, Afrocentric school.

(Charter schools are nominally private, but are not subject to market discipline. They are run entirely through tax dollars, yet are subject to no public oversight. Thus, as far as I can see, they combine the worst aspects of public and private schools.)

As PPD Capt. Edward Chiodetti remarked, albeit in the passive, Clintonian voice, "The gun should not have been pulled out." Barbara Boyer and Thomas J. Gibbons Jr. reported in the February 6 Philadelphia Inquirer, "Capt. Edward Chiodetti said that about 3 p.m., the officer went to the school to pick up her son and was interacting with the students in the boy's classroom. Chiodetti said the children first wanted to see her badge, which she displayed, and then asked to see her weapon, a 9 mm Glock semiautomatic.

"Officials said the officer removed the clip from the weapon and then passed it among the children. Although a clip, which contains the bullets, is removed, a round can remain in the chamber unless it is removed separately. [Hence the rule, to treat every gun as if it were loaded!]

"A girl who was among the 23 children in the classroom at the time of the incident, 9-year-old Aatiqah Johnson, said: 'Everybody was passing it around.'"

After the weapon was returned to Officer Carter-Morange, she dropped it, and then, as Aatiqah Johnson reported, "She accidentally pulled the trigger."

By all rights, Officer Carter-Morange should be fired and prosecuted for reckless endangerment, and for endangering the welfare of a child. She may not be a vicious person, but she is clearly a menace to society. However, I'm laying odds that Carter-Morange will keep her freedom and her job, getting off with a reprimand, and perhaps, a brief suspension. In fact, Vanessa Carter-Morange doesn't even rank very high among the PPD's problems.

Take officers Gina McFadden and Dawn Norman. Please. Last October 18, Officer McFadden (then 25 years old), spread an anthrax hoax through her squad car computer. Newspaper reports said that the message was obscenity-laden, and praised Islam, but withheld the juicy particulars, publishing only, "We don't care ... We can't stand America. We have anthrax in our car ..."

Although the hoax was all Officer McFadden's doing, Officer Norman, then also 25, did nothing to talk her out of it, and lied to her superiors, in seeking to protect her partner. When the message was traced to their squad car, both officers insisted to their bosses, that they had been out of the car at the time. Thus did the city waste money and precious resources, treating the incident as a legitimate anthrax threat, before determining that only the two officers' fingerprints were present in the car.

(None of the many reports I read noted anything peculiar about the patrol car's being clean of any but the officers' fingerprints. The squad car of active officers will contain countless fingerprints from suspects under arrest, crime victims, and fellow officers.)

Officers McFadden and Norman were suspended, and later dismissed from the force. Joann Loviglio of the Associated Press reported last November 20, that "The women could be sentenced to up to 46 years in jail if convicted on all nine charges against each, including felony counts of criminal mischief and criminal conspiracy and misdemeanor counts of terroristic threats and making false reports, [Philadelphia D.A. Lynn] Abraham said." But they probably won't serve a day in jail.

In case you suspect that Gina McFadden and Dawn Norman are aberrations, note that PPD spokeswoman, Stephanie McNeil, told me that in 2001, "We had 26 police officers dismissed from the department" for engaging in criminal acts. Some of those rogue officers had previously been dismissed, and reinstated.

A November 21 AP report quoted Jim Pasco, the executive director of the national police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, as blaming poor recruitment and hiring decisions: "Making better recruitment and hiring decisions on the front end would ease the embarrassment of having to fire officers on the back end."

"'What we need to do is look at the breakdown in recruitment and hiring that allows them to get on the police force in the first place," Pasco said. "In almost all incidents, someone who is a lawbreaker after being hired had something in their background that was a red flag.

"When departments rush through background investigations of police recruits, people who shouldn't be officers are sometimes accepted onto the force. He said an accelerated hiring policy and poor background checks in the Washington, D.C., police department led to the 'Notorious Class of '89.' Over time, more than two dozen officers from that class were arrested and sent to prison for a variety of crimes."

Similar scandals plagued the Miami-Dade Police Department at about the same time, and for the same reasons.

Philadelphia police spokesman Lt. David Yarnell told AP, "We have mechanisms in place to spot these officers' behavior on the force. But it is 'essential' that problems are spotted before someone is recruited."

Lt. Yarnell was being diplomatic. Even if "problems" are spotted, they are unlikely to be solved, until they have become scandals. In the PPD, race-based hiring has apparently gone farther down the slippery slope than in New York. And yet, as far back as 1992, a psychologist who was a consultant to the New York City Police Academy told me, "It's incredible, the pressure to pass people, just because they're minorities. It's all racial. They push, push, push, with people who are inappropriate and are often antisocial themselves."

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