Violence, high-profile cases put Philadelphia & its officers under scrutiny
By David Gambcorta
The Philadelphia Daily News
PHILADELPHIA - Criminals, critics, politicians, out-of-towners - just about everyone seemed to take aim at the Philadelphia Police Department in 2007.
It was a trying year, underscored with the sadness of Officer Chuck Cassidy's murder. Cassidy, a 25-year veteran, was gunned down when he interrupted a robbery at a West Oak Lane Dunkin' Donuts on Halloween morning.
Five other police officers were shot in the line of duty in separate incidents, though none of their injuries proved to be fatal.
There were some glimmers of hope - violent crime overall dipped 8 percent, and the homicide tally declined a bit to 391, compared to 406 last year and 380 in 2005. The Narcotics Bureau also had a record year, confiscating $131 million worth of drugs, $11 million in cash and more than 1,000 guns.
But the rash of police shootings and a spike in the homicide rate during the first half of the year earned the city and the department national media attention - and an ugly nickname, "Killadelphia," ensuring that murder would be a hot-button issue.
As the pressure mounted, Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson scrambled together several initiatives aimed at slowing the bloodshed.
In March, Johnson added 80 veteran cops to Southwest Philadelphia's violent 12th District. The next month, he put 120 of his top commanders on night patrols. A similar campaign followed in June, when Johnson made 400 cops assigned to administrative posts also work weekly foot beats.
"The scrutiny seemed at one point nonstop," said Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross. "It cast such a negative shadow on the city and the men and women in blue who work so hard every day to protect the city. People thought we were the worst city in the country."
Cassidy's slaying - and the Nov. 6 arrest in Miami of his confessed killer, John "Jordan" Lewis - was the most prominent, but other homicide cases also garnered widespread attention and outrage.
* On Jan. 9, Dario Gutierrez, a 79-year-old salsa musician and neighborhood do-gooder, was found bludgeoned to death in his Fairhill home. Gutierrez's son, Jose, is a Philadelphia police officer. Police say the case remains unsolved.
* Vincent Julius Dortch, 44, pulled off one of the bloodiest crimes in recent memory when he executed three business partners inside an office at the old Philadelphia Navy Yard and then turned a gun on himself on Feb. 12. Police said Dortch believed that James Reif, 42, Mark Norris, 46, and Robert Norris, 41, had cheated him out of money.
* Few crimes seemed as senseless as the July 28 murder of Luis Navarro III, 16, in Juniata Park. Police charged Eric Smith, 16, with fatally shooting Navarro so he could take his new dirt bike.
* Tragedy even struck the families of two retired cops, William Widmaier, 65, and Joseph Alullo, 54, who were shot to death working as armored guards in Northeast Philadelphia on Oct. 4. Police have charged Mustafa Ali, 36, with their murders.
* On Nov. 26, Bartram High School sophomore Antonio Q. Clarke, 15, was found beaten and stabbed to death and wrapped in cellophane behind a Grays Ferry electronics store. His murder remains unsolved.
For all of the grim and gruesome cases, police officials said they found one reason to be optimistic as the year drew to a close - tipsters have started calling them.
Detectives locked up 19 homicide suspects in a two-week stretch earlier this month, thanks in part to community tips they received.
"Folks seem to be cooperating a little quicker than the last couple years," noted Chief Inspector Keith Sadler. "Law-abiding people seem to be getting tired of hearing about the no-snitch culture and are pulling together."
Copyright 2008 The Philadelphia Daily News