Mayor Frank Rizzo told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights today that a pattern of police brutality "absolutely does not exist" in his city. Such brutality charges, he said, are largely "media-generated."
Rizzo, a former Phildelphia police commissioner, said that reporters and editors, "with few exceptions, are against the police because of personal philosophies. The bleeding hearts have control of the press."
Rizzo's testimony capped two days of hearings prompted by allegations that Philadelphia and Houston have the most brutal police departments in the nation. The civil rights commission will hold hearings in Texas in June.
Other Philadelphia city officials called before the commission echoed Rizzo's charges against the local press and especially the Philadelphia Inquirer, which won a 1978 Pulitzer Prize for its investigation of police brutality cases.
They also attacked the commission itself. City Solicitor Sheldon Albert compared the commission's proceedings to the red-hunting hearings held by Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.) in the 1950s.
"The inference of these hearings is that we have a department that can do nothing right," said Police Commissioner Joseph O'Neill. "I resent it.
"Look at the effect you're having on morale in the department. . . if you want a bunch of pansies policing the streets, think of the effect it will have on the people of this city."
Two local business leaders testefied that the Philadelphia business community has made an implicit "trade-off " of tolerating alleged police brutality in exchange for enjoying safe streets.
"The average businessman is willing to put up with a little police brutality for adequate police protection," said Chamber of Commerce president W.Thacher Longstreth.
"Nine-tenths of the reason why Rizzo was elected (in 1971) was because crime was mounting," said John Bunting, chairman of the First Pennsylvania Corp. Bunting said press coverage of police brutality charges if "overblown."
However, two prosecutors charged with investigating police misconduct said the police department's commanders are lax in disciplining officers guilty of brutality.
"I am convinced that the command levels [of the department] are not interested in prosecuting such cases," said Assistent U.S. Attorney John Penrose.
Penrose, who secured federal prison terms for six Philadelphia homicide detectives accused of beating a prisoner in 1978, said that "to this day, no internal disciplinary proceeding has been taken against those men."
"The attitude of the hierarchy is that police brutality will be tolerated and is not really a bad thing," said George Parry, chief of the local district attorney's police brutality unit.
Parry, who characterized the department as a "dinosaur that needs to be brought up to date," said the department routinely has denied his office evidence requested for prosecution of police brutality cases.
He said his unit has investigated about 300 brutality allegations in the last 14 months. He estimated that there were about 70 police shootings in 1978, with 35 or 40 of them resulting in civilian deaths.
Police officials admitted that the department has not issued officers any orders explaining the legal use of deadly force since the state's law regarding the subject was revised in 1973.
Rand and file police attitudes about brutalitycharges split along racial lines. The president of the white-dominated Fraternal Order of Police testified that police brutality "positively does not exist."
However, the president of the Guardian Civic League, an organization of mostly black officers, said he regarded police brutality as a "major problem" in Philadelphia.
The civil rights commission is holding the hearings to determine if any revisions in federal law or regulations are needed to end alleged police civil rights abuses.
Tony Jackson, director of the police project of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, suggested that civil rights law to be amended to make bringing suits against police departments easier.
Jackson also urged streamlined procedures for withdrawing federal funds from police departments accused of civil rights violations.