A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tied Hands

It would be a gross understatement to say that emotions within the Philadelphia police department are raw now. As I write this, the department is preparing to bury another one of their own, gunned down by a repeat offender last Friday night. Officer John Pawlowski became the fifth Philadelphia police officer to be murdered in the past year. His death is made even more tragic when one considers that he leaves behind a young bride, expecting their first child.

Now the death is generating more controversy because Municipal Court Judge Craig M. Washington has run afoul of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). A framed photograph of Pawlowski was placed in his precinct’s squad room in his memory. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem, except that the squad room serves as a makeshift courtroom. The problem arose when the judge ordered that the photo be removed as per court rules. When his order was denied by the District officers, he removed the photo himself.

The FOP now believes that the judge dissed its members by removing the photo. The union has vowed to take action against Craig even though the Municipal Court President backed his actions. They have filed judicial misconduct papers to have the judge removed from this district. I can’t blame the FOP for feeling this way, but at the same time I can’t imagine why any judicial official would knowingly want to show disrespect for any law enforcement official.

Obviously, some well-meaning police officers placed the photo in the room as part of the mourning process. Whether or not the officers had ulterior motives could be debated. The photo could have been placed on the judge’s bench to remind criminals appearing before the judge about the lives they affect when they shoot an officer.

Or it could have also served as a reminder to the judge about the people who dedicate their lives to protect the citizens of Philadelphia. This underscores a mounting tension between the police department, who brings the criminal element to justice, and the court system, which too often appear lenient when they impose punishment along sentencing guidelines.

Unfortunately, a police officer's photo on the bench could be misconstrued as the court system tipping the scales of justice in favor of the police department. Any lawyer for a criminal appearing at this bench will leap at the sight of Lady Justice’s peeking out from behind her blindfold, and move to have their client’s charges dismissed or overturned on an appeal. The prejudicial appearance of the court in this case could backfire on the police department and put even more criminals back on the streets.

The same argument could be made for the FOP’s insistence on removing Judge Craig and suspending all preliminary hearings until an investigation is completed. Will the criminals in Philadelphia likewise suspend their activities until they are sure that the precinct hearing chamber is fully operational again? Doubt it...

Understandably, the police department feels the frustration in such situations because their hands are tied by the law coupled with a sense of fair play and ethics. The court system in turn has its hands tied by guidelines that are a mixture of philosophies: justice for all, let the punishment fit the offense, and a tradition rooted in the Judeo/Christian ethic that everyone is capable of redemption. The guidelines in turn are set up by legislators whose hands are tied by the fact that many of them accepted campaign contributions from concerned organizations like the National Rifle Association.

Okay, this may be a major over simplified explanation of the judicial process, but I did manage to name all of the relevant players. Perhaps it is not so much what the judge did, but how he did it. Maybe he could’ve handled the whole matter with more grace and finesse. In any case, if someone has been offended by his actions, then he should offer an apology. In the meantime, the FOP may find a better use of its energy and time concentrating on the period of mourning, and later, focus on actions that will prevent more police from dying on the streets of Philadelphia.


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