Sadness, Anger and Disbelief over the Loss of another Philadelphia Police Officer

by Kevin Morison

Mayor Nutter, Commissioner Ramsey and other Philadelphia Police officials express their outrage over the shooting death of Officer McDonald. Calling the recent rash of attacks on officers something he has never seen in 40 years of policing, Ramsey questioned why cop killer Daniel Giddings, who had a history of disruptive behavior behind bars, had been released from prison before completing his full term. Police also expect to bring charges against a South Carolina man who purchased the murder weapon and several other guns (one of which was used in an earlier robbery) in what appeared to be a “straw purchase.” Read the Philadelphia Inquirer story and watch video of Mayor Nutter and Commissioner Ramsey.
In the 14 years I worked for Chuck Ramsey – first with the Chicago Police Department and then with the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, DC – I was always impressed by his insight and eloquence. Ramsey, who is now the Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, just has an uncanny knack for knowing what to say and when to say it.

So when I emailed him on Tuesday afternoon to express condolences over the fatal shooting of Philadelphia Highway Patrol Officer Patrick McDonald – the third Philadelphia Police officer killed in the line of duty this year – Ramsey’s reply was uncharacteristically brief. His message was one word: “Bad.”

Nola Joyce, another Ramsey protégé from Chicago and DC who is working with the Commissioner in Philadelphia, was only slightly more verbose – and equally haunting. “Words can’t describe the feeling here,” she wrote. “It is sadness, anger, disbelief all rolled into one. It is not good.”

The attacks on members of the Philadelphia Police Department over the past two-and-a-half years have been shocking not just for their frequency – five officers killed in the line of duty and literally dozens more fired upon and, in several cases, injured – but even more so for their brazenness.

Tuesday’s incident took place in the middle of a sunny afternoon in a North Philadelphia neighborhood just a few blocks from Temple University. That’s when Officer McDonald became engaged in a gun battle with a wanted felon who had only recently been released from prison for a 1998 robbery and aggravated assault conviction. A warrant had been issued a week earlier for a subsequent altercation with police. During the gun battle, Officer McDonald was shot. As he lay wounded on the street, the 27-year-old killer reportedly stood over Officer McDonald and fired several more times.

An “execution,” in the words of Homicide Captain James Clark.

A fellow member of the elite Highway Patrol, Officer Richard Bowes, was shot and injured upon responding to Officer McDonald’s call for help. During the ensuing foot pursuit and gun battle with police, the offender was killed, clutching a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun as he went down.

McDonald’s killing came just weeks after Officer Isabel Nazario was killed after her patrol car was struck by a stolen SUV being driven recklessly by a 16-year-old boy. On May 3 of this year, Sergeant Stephen Liczbinski was gunned down by one of three bank robbers after a Saturday morning stickup at a branch bank inside a local supermarket. Last October, Officer Chuck Cassidy was fatally shot at point-blank range during a robbery at a Dunkin’ Donuts on Officer Cassidy’s beat. And in May 2006, Officer Gary Skerski was shot to death outside a bar when he and his partner interrupted a holdup.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter captured the outrage of the Police Department and the community when he told the local media, “I do not know what is going on in the minds of some of these individuals out here. When they come upon a Philadelphia police officer … somehow, they believe they can engage in gunfights with us.”

The Philadelphia Police Department is truly hurting from these outrageous attacks on its officers. But the really amazing thing is that, despite the shock, despite the anger, despite the grief and even uncertainty enveloping the department right now – there are, at this very moment, literally hundreds of amazingly dedicated law enforcement officers out patrolling the streets of the city. Men and women who got up today, put on their uniforms, pinned on their badges and hit the streets so that citizens and visitors in the City of Brotherly Love could go about their lives in relative safety and less fear.

The people of Philadelphia owe the members of their Police Department abiding gratitude and respect at all times. But right now, in this time of extreme heartbreak for the city and the police, all of us would do well to stop for a moment, contemplate the events of Philadelphia, mourn their fallen heroes and send out our hopes and prayers for better, more peaceful days ahead.

Read Craig Floyd’s tribute to Philadelphia Police officers killed in the line of duty throughout the city’s history.