But asking police to turn each other in seems unrealistic. How could somebody justify ratting out a partner or fellow officer who they trust with their lives out on the street?
“Good moral men understand that silence sometimes isn’t the best response,” Johnson says. “If there’s a bad police officer out there, then we have an obligation as police professionals and concerned citizens to eradicate our department of that person. If we decided we’re not going to speak on it … then we will pay the price for that.”
Observers say regulations requiring officers to speak up have long been in place, to no avail.
“The rules haven’t always been followed,” says Kelvyn Anderson, deputy director of the Police Advisory Commission, an independent civilian body charged with overseeing the department.
“What we’ve seen in the past is that it’s somewhat more difficult to concentrate on those officers who witnessed [an illegal or corrupt act] when really we’re trying to deal mostly with the officer who took the action. You might see some type of discipline meted out against the officer who took the action. You might not see discipline for the officers who didn’t say anything.”
However, the PAC is working with the Department to recommit to going after all the cops involved in the event of misconduct. “Are the partners of the officers not telling the truth?” Anderson asks. “There have to be some consequences for that within the discipline system as well.”
To some, cynicism about the force has reached such a degree that it’s hard to believe that things will get better just because the people in charge say it will. “I don’t believe it!” laughs Linn Washington, a Temple journalism professor and columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune who has written extensively about the Carnation case and police corruption in general. “Commissioner Ramsey needs to be applauded for tackling this issue,” Washington says. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that it is going to do anything.”
“One of the facets of corruption is police culture, this blue wall of silence where they don’t snitch on each other and those that snitch get treated like the McKennas and Carnation,” Washington says. “Until that blue wall of silence is changed … the efforts of Commissioner Ramsey or anyone who sits in that position will look good in press conferences but will have negligible impact on the streets.”
“We’re running a marathon, not a sprint,” Johnson says. Change won’t come overnight, but his goal, and Ramsey’s, is to make a permanent shift in culture.
“Bad cops are a cancer to everyone,” Johnson says. “We’re not running away from the problem.”
For Carnation and the McKennas, the new attitude comes about 12 years too late.