The City

In 1680, William Penn purchased a large tract of land from the British Crown, on which a colony of Quakers settled. This area later became the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Penn’s charter covered most of the lands that were then occupied by Dutch and Swedish settlements, but in acquiring this charter Penn assured those already living in the area that their personal, social, and religious habits would not be disturbed. Penn’s legacy was to imbue this new ”Pennsylvania” with the Quaker idea of tolerance (see Weigley 1982).
Philadelphia’s location was strategic in that its settlement was at the convergence of two rivers (Delaware and Schuylkill), only about a hundred miles from the Atlantic and with good navigation, and on land as a connecting point between New York and the then-emerging South. Philadelphia was also situated in an area with considerable building materials (wood, stone, and the like), making the city an excellent location for shipping and commerce. Given that the Swedes had peacefully seceded the lands to Penn and given the underlying Quaker ideals embracing the city, the area took on its association with “Brotherly Love.”
Penn’s conception of Philadelphia can be seen as an attempt at utopian city planning, the city being conspicuously located on north-south and east-west axes, with considerable open or “green” space. The model was seen to replicate the ideas of gentlemen’s estates borrowed from England, and the attention to open social spaces remains to this day. As a modern city, a large amount of Philadelphia’s land area remains open parkland.
Penn’s Philadelphia grew rapidly, so much that by 1743, only twenty-five years after Penn’s death, Philadelphia had ten thousand inhabitants. Penn’s legacy is not connected only with the City of Philadelphia; the governance system Penn initiated for Pennsylvania eventually became the model for Congress, and much of the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia experience set the stage for the founding of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In fact, between 1783 and 1800, Philadelphia was the capital city for the then-emerging United States of America.

The Police Department

Policing in Philadelphia stemmed from the patrol systems originated by the early Swedish settlers, and by the early 1700s a “town watch” system had emerged; these early colonial systems emphasized voluntary, unpaid citizen participation as the basis of patrol. Philadelphia’s first paid police emerged in 1751 when the General Assembly created two “police” roles— wardens and constables—who patrolled the city on a limited and often sporadic basis. In 1850, a “police marshal” was appointed, taking jurisdiction of the city, and in 1854, the City of Philadelphia incorporated through annexation many outlying sections into the city and in doing so reorganized government, including the police. The modern-day city of Philadelphia then emerged, comprising some 129 square miles. The city continued to revise its government, but the underlying structure of the area and police function remains largely in tact to this date.
Like many emerging urban cities, Philadelphia had its share of corruption throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In August 1928, for example, a grand jury presentment revealed that Philadelphia police officers at all ranks were involved in corruption and graft amounting to millions of dollars (Pennsylvania Crime Commission 1974). In 1928, 1937, 1951, and 1953, grand jury investigations involving allegations of police corruption were conducted. Each revealed an intimate connection between vice operators—gamblers, pimps, and pros-titutes—and police officers, police officials, and political leaders within the city (Pennsylvania Crime Commission 1974). The consistency of the city’s “scandals and reforms” followed much of that seen in other large cities, large-scale immigration from Europe and the South and ensuing struggles between political machines and urban reformers.
Philadelphia was and in some degree remains an interesting large, urban city. During the middle years of the twentieth century, national attention was largely focused on New York or Washington, D.C., as the economic and political capitals of the United States. Philadelphia’s changes, politically, socially, and economically, were less visible nationally. From the 1940s and through the 1960s, that visibility changed, often portraying the city and its police in a less positive light.
During the 1920s, the Philadelphia Police Department was immortalized in the silent movies as the “Keystone Cops”— Pennsylvania being the Keystone State and Philadelphia its largest city. While the Philadelphia police lay dormant in the public view during the 1930s through the early 1950s, the city was racially divided, and the mode of policing in Philadelphia was tough.
Perhaps emblematic of the “tough policing style” that emerged in the Philadelphia Police Department was its very public police commissioner during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Philadelphia, like other cities, experienced considerable social turmoil (see Rubenstein 1979). Rising through the ranks of the Phildelphia Pol-cie Department, which he joined in the 1940s, Frank Rizzo became police commissioner in 1967 and remained in this position until 1971. Rizzo had come up through the ranks of the department, garnering a reputation for rough-and-tumble policing in the city.
Known as the “Cisco Kid” on the street, a name modeled after a 1950s “shoot-em-up” cowboy western on television, Rizzo had been instrumental in cracking down on after hours nightclubs and coffee houses in West Philadelphia, an area largely populated by blacks and the then-emerging “beatnick” culture. His tactics and language were often aggressive, and his persona ultimately became that of the Philadelphia Police Department. Rizzo demanded personal loyality, defended his police officers in the face of almost any complaint, was himself accused of abuse of authority and brutality, and ultimately ran the police department intermittently from the position of mayor of the city from 1972 through 1980. Throughout this period, the Philadelphia police continually distanced themselves from the public and embraced a strict policing style, especially in minority communities.
Rizzo was followed by Joseph F. O’Neill (1971-1980) and Morton Solomon (1980-1984). O’Neill differed stylistically from Rizzo, but not substantively, having himself come ”up through the ranks” of the Phildelphia Police Department, while Solomon, another long-term veteran of the department, is credited with reigning in police use of force within the city, most particularly use of lethal force. While Solomon did indeed vastly improve some of the policies and procedures within the department, continuing internal problems beginning within his administration and revealed by the FBI in 1982 reinforced the idea that the departrment had not lost its taste for corruption.
In 1984, Gregore Sambor, a career officer in the department, assumed the role of chief of police and presided over one of the most public and bizzare police scandals of modern policing—the MOVE incident. Sambor’s career was short lived, and he was succeeded by a series of reform chiefs that continue in one way or another to the present. The MOVE incident, followed in 1995 by a far-reaching scandal in the 39th Police District, resurfaced public concerns with the accountability and honesty of the Philadelphia Police Department.

MOVE and the 39th Police District Scandals

May 13, 1985, was a day of infamy for the Phialdelphia Police Department. A rather radical urban group known as MOVE was well known to Philadelphia and a great source of neighborhood conflict. MOVE had had several confrontations with the city and with Frank Rizzo. In 1978, MOVE had an open confrontation with the police department during which one officer was killed and the MOVE home leveled. Seven years later, MOVE had relocated to West Philadelphia and continued to stir up neighborhood conflict by harassing residents and piling up trash and waste that rotted on the MOVE property. On May 13, the Philadelphia Police Department, under the command of Commissioner Sambor, attacked the MOVE house, and in the ensuing conflict the house caught fire, the fire spread to encompass approximately two city blocks (sixty-one residences), displacing hundreds of residents, and eleven MOVE members lost their lives.
The MOVE tradegy and its investigative aftermath portrayed the Philadelphia Police Department and its leadership as “out-of-control” relative to how they approached this event, and in the aftermath of this incident, Gregore Sambor resigned. The Philadelphia Police Department had again lost public credibility. This loss followed an earlier 1984 scandal involving Sambor’s deputy chief, James J. Martin, who was indicted for corruption within months of his appointment.
Ten years later, in 1995, officers primarily from the 39th District, one of Philadelphia’s ”busy” police areas, were indicted for alleged abuse of police authority and corruption. This scandal rocked the city, most especially in terms of the number of people affected. As of mid-1997, five police officers had been convicted on charges of making false arrests, filing false reports, and robbing drug suspects. These officers were said to have raided drug houses, stolen money from dealers, and beaten anyone who got in their way. Due to the actions of these officers, literally thousands of drug convictions were subjected to review as of the end of 1997. At that time, a substantial number of cases (upwards of 300) had been overturned because of the illegal and corrupt actions of these officers.
The 39th District scandal, not unlike the Rampart scandal of the LAPD and the Dowd scandal of the NYPD, served to strengthen the view of those who believed the department was always corrupt while undermining any confidence in the Philadelphia police the remaining public may have had.
The department in 1996 did reach an agreement for a more detailed and systematic review of complaints against police and created an independent Integrity and Accountability Office to investigate complaints, which has led to more systematic oversight of the police in Philadelphia and to better police and community interactions.
The current Philadelphia Police Department employs more than 6,600 officers and patrols an area of some 142.6 miles with a population of almost 1.5 million.
The department is subdivided into twenty-three patrol districts, and like many other large municipal police forces, it includes many special units. The department has made many improvements during the years, including implementing community policing and a business improvement district in the center city of Philadelphia. The department has also been recognized for its improved crime analysis. Such improvements have restored some of the public confidence that the past scandals eroded.

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