The Trouble with Police-Community Relations: Sunday in West Philly Edition

Campus cops have trouble taking a complaint.


I spent the afternoon in West Philly near but not on the University of Pennsylvania campus. On my back to my car I noticed a Penn campus police car double parked in front of my car, pulling someone else over or something. I didn't understand why the cop didn't just pull in behind the car he pulled over and was covering the bike lane and even in the street a bit. It wasn't going to be a big deal but then a second Penn campus cop car pulled up and parked next to me and behind me, cutting off the space in front of me to pull and blocking me from an easy way to pull out. I backed up half the block and then the second cop, out of his car now, turned and gave me this look like I was the one doing something inconsiderate and not him. I always found the idea of campus cops patrolling the area slightly comical though I know it's not comical for the people in the unfortunate position of living in a neighborhood where they have to deal with not just one unaccountable police force, the Philly police, which at least nominally answer to the democratically elected government and thus the people, but two. I decided to use this strange behavior I saw as an opportunity to see how Penn Police deal with complaints and concerns.

Not good. I found a number for Penn security and got put through to a Corporal Palmer. First he asked if I was calling about Penn Police or Penn security. The ones with the police cars and lights wasn't a good enough answer even though my understanding is Penn security is basically a contracted security service. I consulted the photos I took and told him it was Penn Police. The number I called, however, was from the Penn security website. I explain to the Corporal what I saw and that I thought it was creating a traffic hazard needlessly and he asked what my gripe was if I got out of the spot fine. I told him I thought it reflected poorly on police-community relations and wanted to complain. He told me he was going to tell me to have a nice day and hung up.

I called back again later, to offer him a chance to clarify his comments after I decided this was an illustrative example of how deceptively simple "improving police-community relations" is as a "solution" to police brutality—if Palmer had a friendlier demeanor, would that have made a difference? Early on, before I even spoke with Palmer, a dispatcher told me if two cop cars were pulled over there then two cop cars had to be pulled over there to do what they needed to do. I've heard this before, when calling local police departments about Essex County (N.J.) sheriff's cars speeding through neighborhoods in Newark and South Orange without their lights or sirens on. It's what they're supposed to be doing, I'm always told—until they kill someone and can't fudge the evidence. The cops I saw today, though, weren't from some other government, but the local university. When operating off campus and getting in the way of the everyday lives of people who have no affiliation with the university, that cavalier "bend to our will" kind of attitude appears even more ridiculous on its face than usual for a "democratic society." Luckily, reducing police brutality doesn't necessarily require "better police-community relations," just tighter rules of engagement and higher disciplinary standards for police officers, not just when they shoot and kill but in the totality of their interactions with the community.

When I called Palmer a second time, he actually asked who I was. I introduced myself and told him I write for Reason and wanted to give him a chance to clarify his earlier comments. He says to me: "You don't have any questions for me." I asked him what he meant and he repeated it, then asked how he could help me. I told him it's hard to help someone when you tell them they don't have any questions and he explained he meant he wouldn't answer any of my questions. I asked him why he hung up on me the first time—he denied it. I asked him whether there was a formal process for filing a complaint. I asked him why he didn't tell me this the first time and he said I didn't ask for that information. He told me I could come in to file a complaint. "With you?" I asked, incredulously. He said I could talk to his supervisor then. Only after that did he inform me there was actually a website (he didn't give me a link but I can Google) where you could file a formal complaint. I asked him again why he didn't tell me this the first time and he said it wasn't what I was calling about. While I explained to him that it actually was what I was calling about when he hung up on me, he hung up on me again. I called the number a third time, this time telling the dispatcher I didn't actually have to speak with Palmer again but just wanted to confirm he had hung up on me mid-sentence. The dispatcher told me Palmer told him to tell me he gave me all the information I needed.

If this is the way Penn Police respond to a complaint from someone who saw something he considered inconsiderate of police to do (I call police about this kind of stuff pretty regularly, and have never not been pretty immediately told the proper procedure to file a complaint)—and the corporal whose job it is is to sit at the window and talk to the public and take phone calls all day can't muster a little more friendliness, even after the person he's talking to identifies themselves as a member of the press, how do you imagine Penn Police respond to the complaints of people, not affiliated with Penn, whose lives they interfere with on a daily basis? I'm interested in learning more about how these police-community relations work. I attended a Freddie Gray rally in Philly several weeks ago. There were many Penn students there. Perhaps they could find a police reform goal closer to home: keeping their campus police on campus and out of everyone else's lives. 

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  1. I call police about this kind of stuff pretty regularly

    You must be on a lot of lists.

    The only time I have ever called the police was after I had a gun in my face during a robbery. And that was a long time ago – not sure I would bother today.

  2. Slow news day stuff, huh? Ed’s writing about how he’s shocked that someone whose job is talking to the public on the phone at a large bureaucracy (government or corporate makes no difference) has no information or authority and obviously doesn’t give a shit. He’s probably just as surprised as the other several hundred (at least) who called that day.

    Not that I don’t see where he’s going with this but it is kind of petty.

    1. We’re your local police force and we don’t care – we don’t have to.

      1. Alright then, what would be your ideal outcome? Should the guy have thrown off his badge and sworn to be a one-man-army to avenge all wrongs in the world, starting with poor Ed getting delayed in traffic?

        1. You are disappoint this eve.

        2. Should the guy have thrown off his badge and sworn to be a one-man-army to avenge all wrongs in the world, starting with poor Ed getting delayed in traffic?

          No. That is not how good customer service works. The most important thing in a customer service department is making people feel like they have been heard and that their concerns are important to the organization.

          This is true whether we are talking about a police department or a mail order company or a restaurant. What happens when you complain about the service at your favorite restaurant?

          If things go the right way, the waitress will apologize and bring the manager, who will also apologize. Even if they don’t see what you could possibly be upset about. And then the manager will often offer some token to make you feel taken care of. This whole process makes you feel like your concerns are taken seriously. Even if they couldn’t care less and they all have a laugh at your expense after you leave.

          The guy working the customer service line at the Penn campus police did the exact opposite. He told the complainant that his concerns were not important to the organization and would not be taken into consideration. Even if the concerns were petty, he managed to confirm that Penn campus police are perfectly happy to trample on those around them. It was pretty much the exact opposite of the goals a customer service rep should have.

      2. They’ll care when the “plant a freedom seed today” meme comes home to roost.

        Or perhaps not.

    2. Good, you run along now and go find some important stuff to read and comment on.


    3. Good, you run along now and go find some important stuff to read and comment on.


      1. See, even the squirrelz are waving good bye.

    4. I fucking hate the local cops fucking up the roads here. I fucking hate it. I live in rural ohio and a couple of these shit deputies at 12 midnight will be sitting on 33 literally fucking up the truck route which is a never-ending stream of accidents just begging to occur and, hell, I’ve witnessed this shit happen more often than I’d like. Get your GODDAMN cruiser OUT of the FUCKING road. I don’t want to FUCKING die because a dick was going 8 miles over the speed limit and a tired trucker can’t find the straightest route between the sideline and my lights because your cruiser led’s have blinded his fucking face into a nightmare sun.

      Cops blocking anything aside from outright murder or road pain pinch my fucking dick every time.

      I did run into one cop that pulled my wife and another driver OFF the main road into a side road because of road debris that fucked up two 50 thousand dollar cars. That one time last fall. A cop did the right thing and refused to impede traffic.

      1. so how do you really feel about cops? There is some irony in your story, particularly the last part: cops doing stupid or criminal things used to be the exception, protect and serve was the rule. That has flipped, largely due to LEOs unwillingness to do something about the bad actors in their ranks.

        1. Policing is largely ruined. But, separate actors who have wits and character seek to act ethically and rarely. Law enforcement is currently a sham outfitted by decades of legislation to impose violence upon swathes of citizens for no intelligible reason other than political gain.

          Are police important? In small numbers on details that are extremely serious. They have no business in a free society sticking their noses into a million details as they currently demand due to lobbying and criminalification which increases their numbers.

      2. “rural Ohio”

        Out by Athens and Nelsonville? Used to live in the area. Hated it. 32 going to Cincy is even worse. It’s straight, flat, and empty… perfect for doing 70-80 but noooooooo. That’s dangerous or some bullshit.

    5. Petty — that’s *your* complaint? I guess it is.

      Cops and other government critters are literally uncontrolled, in just abut every wy imaginable. It’s good to report all angles.

      My own experience with cops began similarly pettily. I grew up in a small unincorporated town which had a deputy substation only used at shift change, near as I can remember. This was probably about 1960, and probably the biggest problem for deputies was catching seniors with kegs. I was 10 years old, walking to the library next to it with my 5 year old brother. Just as we passed the deputy substation, a sheriff’s car pulled up. I turned around, stuck my thumbs in my ears, wiggled my fingers, and stuck out my tongue. The proper response would have been to laugh and do it back. Instead, we got a 5 minute rant on how hard they worked, how dangerous their job was, how important they were, how much respect they deserved, etc.

      It was an important lesson to me. No encounter with cops has ever improved. They are still self-important puffed-up assholes.

      It’s just as petty as this article, and just as important.

      1. I ask again: What would you have happen here? What do you expect someone with no power to change things, whose job performance is judged in part by keeping calls short and who – without a doubt – has to deal with an avalanche of bullshit from people including threats of bogus lawsuits and claiming fake press credentials?

        1. Uh, behave like a human being? No, even for such a simple complaint, all he could summon was being an entitled asshole who knows no one can ever get his bosses to hold him accountable.

          Cops are not humans while in uniform, and the few I have knowingly met in civvies were assholes too.

          1. Clearly this goddamn scarecrow understand the most basic fucking levels of customer service in the free world and when SusanM is bested by a scarecrow repair thing she should be the lovely libertarian she is and seek to grow and multiply her philosophy flowers.

            1. Why thank you! One of the best compliments I have ever received 🙂

              1. Um, that’s ridiculousmosis, You’ve spent tons of brain power here that’s great and deserving of libertarian love…. the scarecrow has missed the thread beating hearts of love here, mayhaps? yeah…..

        2. I would have the officer speak courteously. He doesn’t need to be friendly. Just courteous and forthcoming with information.

          1. Free society 101.

        3. Well, for starters, he could have immediately identified the proper process for Mr. Krayewski to post a complaint. If the guy’s job is to sit around all day and take calls, it would make sense for him to have the basic skills one would expect from an entry-level customer service rep.

    6. Hmmm… I would say government or corporate makes a big difference. They don’t often tape your phone calls for nothing. People at a profit-making enterprise who treat their customers like this tend to lose their jobs.

      1. you never hear that “this call may be recorded for quality assurance” when dealing with a public agency. Fuck you, that’s why, of course. I’m sure it’s just a problem of funding or training.

        1. you never hear that “this call may be recorded for quality assurance” when dealing with a public agency.

          Yeah, I meant to make that point but I was moving words around and it got lost.

  3. Emergencies occurred and this Corporal Palmer melanoma is about emergent street threats like minor tickets and such and you are not an emergency person and just a fucking moron normal American that the FOP likes to dump its turds into so shit happens, Ed. Be emergent and emergenocidal and fuckwaffle corphack Palmer will respond like the fucking responderdolt his brains leads him to believe he is. Penn state is a wonderful place to send your children to get their brains smashed into governmental submission. Tho, I think all higher ed is about smashing kid brains into pulps of government cock suck.

    1. Penn, not Penn State. About an order of magnitude higher tuition and prestige.

  4. . . . even after the person he’s talking to identifies themselves as a member of the press. . .

    Maybe we should get you one of them there govmint licenses so people can know the special privileges you’re accorded?

    1. Well, corporal Palmer should also understand that if he fucks with Agmammon from heaven I will also seek to thrust words into his cop spine. So these karma events tend to spiral conversely.

    2. Maybe we should get you one of those things at the end of the neck, what are they called, brains I think.

      Ed’s not saying he deserves special privileges. He’s showing how little the cop cared about public relations when talking to someone who can give him some bad publicity. It’s another fine example of the general aspect of what he’s writing about, that cops are bastards who can’t be held accountable, and especially have no self-interest in even the appearance of accountability.

      1. Cops are distinct because they are improved and elite. So sez the FOP doctrines and all the cop colleges pumping all this shit into malformed and retarded brains that are then offered munitions and authority to fuck American citizens up with impunity. Fuck the law-and-order crowd sitting at home behind the picket fences of spineless goddamn submissive repetitive living. Even the goddamn coffins are bored with these empty-headed square fucks who love the power of egregious laws like the Muslim fucks they pretend to hate.

      2. Christ, WTF is it with this Sunday? First SusanM and now you. I’m making a fething *joke* here (about a libertarian complaining that saying he was press didn’t get an attitude change).

        1. Weekends are… strange around here.

        2. Maybe you should take some personal responsibility when your post is not understood as a joke. Learn, do better next time. Don’t insult your audience because your joke was piss poor.

          If it was meant as a joke.

          1. It looks like you weren’t the intended audience.

            1. It looks like you picked the wrong audience, and then blamed them for your mistake.

  5. Campus police always have mission creep. Always.

    The only campus department under control in CA is USC’s Dept of Public Safety. They have an MOU with the LAPD that explicitly states that they are only supposed to deal with student safety issues. No bullshit traffic stops a mile from campus.

    University of California Police are all fucked up. I had a campus officer tell me that he had jurisdiction from Mexico to Oregon. No he fucking doesn’t. It that’s what they’re teaching those officers, that’s a big problem.

    1. Mexico to Oregon. And cops wonder why everyone won’t genuflect to them. Megalomania anyone?

    2. “I had a campus officer tell me that he had jurisdiction from Mexico to Oregon.”

      I would punch this bitch in the fucking eye and rape his hairy ass with a million ass-eating toads on a dark road in the twilight of an iconic cactus while I ravaged a pile of peyote with my face as shadows danced like tortured rivers seeking to escape the dams of men.

    3. Actually, he might be right. Sometimes, supposedly, state university police (depends on the state, though, obviously) are actually “state police” and therefore have a similar jurisdiction range (i.e. the whole state). If this is the case, I imagine the only reason you don’t see them operating much outside of campuses or nearby is that the “real” state police probably get all territorial about it.

      And don’t forget that the concept of jurisdiction has blurred a shitload over the years. Any current or retired LEO, for instance, has a default carry permit for the entire US (meaning some deputy sheriff from Dinky County can carry in NYC legally, even when actual residents don’t have a chance in hell of getting the same right). Most LEOs are considered “on duty” at all times, at least for more serious crimes that they see. And so on.

      It’s all part of their ongoing effort to truly make themselves a higher class.

      1. He has powers of arrest that extend to anywhere in the state, but so do you or I.

        His “Jurisdiction” is the property owned by the Regents of the University of California. Campus buildings, dorms, and the stadium. That’s it.

        There is definitely a blurring of the lines, though. And those lines are mostly blurred by the people at the bottom. University police, school police, and airport police.

        LAUSD Police (the very existence of which is offensive) are the worst. They have black and white police cars for no good reason (shouldn’t they be walking around campus?), and they are simply labeled “police”. Not “school police”, just “police”. They tailgate on the freeway, run red lights, and other bullshit. They don’t want you to know that they’re just security guards with a pension, and they can’t even pull you over.

    4. Was he one of them Shriner cops?

      1. Shriner cops are beer thong brothel brothers, man. Where the fat wealthy white boys above 55 get the day off from being fucking special and godly and let loose in a basement filled with pricey call girls twice yearly. The fat boy dp’s cost several k and the smart downtown girl gets to pay off her luxury crossover she never drives because taxis are cheaper and more efficient.

      2. With qualified immunity, yes.

  6. I have a sneaking feeling that Palmer has exactly zero fucks to give about any piss-ant complaints from any fucking peons. I also suspect that same quantity of fucks extends to the rest of the force.

    1. Palmer also does his shitty little job because his creeping worthless brain needs approval every fucking day… and Palmer is disturbed by citizen hatred spread wide across the states like any egomaniac… see, the mind of Palmer will remain at the edge unpertrubed but he will go home and beat his girlfriend until her bones are black and blue and she WILL be a cop punching bag like a lot of them find… cops love lovers that can handle pain for years and years even when their cunts make babies… cops will still beat these weak shit brain women for years and years and the FOP will protect their punching of lovers… The FOP, the panty crying big lawyer boys love to protect wife abusers…… yea…. a couple of kids in New Jersey, Bless the fucking CHRISTIE statue fat fuck, and the mafia cops have to send tons of lawyers all the day everyday to save nasty wife-beaters from being found out while cable TV thinks the beaches are free and partying and sweet with dumbass schmucks called the jersey shore displacement of true reality.

  7. The Penn students probably prefer that to being shot by the Philly residents. Just a hunch.

    1. When I arrived at Penn in ’83 as a postdoc, the first talk I was given was by Security and included a map of the area with a red line around it. “Stay inside that red line. Step out of it, and you may not come back tomorrow.”

      And they were right, that is one scary fucking neighborhood.

      1. The area has gentrified and isn’t as bad as it was in the 80s.

  8. Here we go dude, lets roll it up man.


  9. No need to complain about such stuff.
    Just slash their tires and continue on your merry way.
    Oh, don’t forget to film their stupid faces when they discover they’ve been had…

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