The biggest challenge facing the Philadelphia Police Department is not a lack of officers, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said at a budget hearing yesterday. It's the officers who are on the force's payroll but are unable to serve in their full capacity or can't work at all.
"Six hundred officers a day, on average, are unavailable for [street] duty," Ramsey said, calling the number "unacceptable." "It makes it very difficult to run an operation," he added.
After the statute for those with temporary disabilities resulting from on-the-job injuries was expanded to include Philadelphia police in 2005, the number of unavailable-for-duty officers grew to an astounding amount -- reaching a 2010 peak of 691, 330 of which were unable to serve in any capacity, Deputy Commissioner John Gaittens testified.
That doesn't include officers absent for pending disciplinary action, court work, vacation or other types of leave, according to the press secretary for Councilman Curtis Jones Jr, chairman of the Public Safety Committee.
The issue is also a smoldering sore spot for the Fraternal Order of Police.
"I can tell you right now they're absolutely wrong. They can't get their figures right," FOP President John McNesby said after hearing of the Council hearing. "The bottom line is that we have hundreds of less officers than we had in 2005 and also more people are getting hurt these days because of a reckless disregard for police. ... How many cops have been killed since 2005? Don't come at me with those bulls-- numbers when I bet they didn't discuss that number."
In lieu of actual cops
"We have to face the reality -- I think the police used to have 8,100 or 8,200 police officers. That's never going to happen again," Ramsey said. "But we also didn't have technology and other things to help us leverage to fight crime then."
Those include a surveillance network and a new social media campaign.
Disability act that's hurtful
Many officers receive disability benefits under the state Heart and Lung Act.
"Since it's been used for police, it's had a dramatic impact on our operation," Ramsey said.
"What we're finding is that a lot of officers are staying out a lot longer than they should," Lt. Ray Evers said.