Category Archives: PHILLY LOCAL

Grassroots support for Philly’s embattled cops


On Halloween morning in 2007, police officer Chuck Cassidy of the city’s 35th district pulled up to a local Dunkin’ Donuts to perform a routine security check and perhaps grab a fresh cup of joe to begin his work day.

Bright sunshine of the morning that day combined with the lesser light inside the business made it impossible for Cassidy to see inside the establishment.

Little did he know as he pulled open the door to that innocent coffee and donut shop, one that Cassidy had entered many times before, that it would be the last door he would ever open.

Inside was an armed robber who turned and fired a gunshot into Cassidy before the officer ever knew what hit him.

Thus began the most deadly string of murders of Philly’s Finest in decades. Just seven months after Cassidy’s murder, in May of 2008, Sergeant Steve Liczbinski responded to a robbery in progress taking place at a bank branch inside a supermarket of his 24th police district. It would be the final call of his career, as Liczbinski was also gunned down in cold blood by the robbers.

Philly cops and their supporters mourned the loss of these two popular officers throughout the summer of 2008. Little did they know it was not over yet. Not nearly.

In early September, the city’s police were again driven to shock when officer Isabel ‘Izzie’ Nazario was killed. She and her partner were involved in a vehicular pursuit of a stolen car, though not in direct pursuit, when the driver suddenly emerged from a blind intersection and slammed into their cruiser at full speed.

The loss of a third officer in less than a year seemed like dirt being rubbed into an already open wound. Then the unthinkable happened – again.

Just a couple of weeks later, still in September, officer Pat McDonald pulled over a vehicle for a simple traffic violation, something that many of the city’s police officers do every single day, something that I did hundreds of times. Only this would be Pat’s final car stop. This time the driver was a wanted man, and he decided to shoot and kill Pat McDonald rather than risk returning to jail.

It was official, Philly’s cops were under siege.
People were taking shots at us, running from us, physically challenging us like never before. The thug mentality had overcome the city, and race became a part of the issue as each of the cop-killers faces flashed across television screens.

Former Mayor John Street’s notorious statement that “the brothers and sisters are running this town now” seemed to be taking on a gangsta tone.

Something was seriously wrong here in Philly, and many of our citizens stepped forward with words of condolence and togetherness, some even with anger at what was happening.

But did they then go back to their communities, to their families, and begin to make real changes that would back up their words?

Less than two months later, Sergeant Tim Simpson, a fellow supervisor in the exact same squad of officers in which Steve Lisczbinski had worked at the time of his murder, responded to yet another robbery call. Like Lisczbinski, it would be Simpson’s final call.

As he responded to the robbery, Simpson entered the intersection of Aramingo and Allegheny Avenues. Here, a drunk driver in a speeding Camaro slammed into Simpson’s cruiser. The 24th district had lost their 2nd Sergeant in six months, and Philly’s cops had lost their fifth officer in under a year.

A long, cold winter of grieving got underway, and in the middle of it just about two weeks ago, young 25-year-old father-to-be John Pawlowski and his partner pulled up on a disturbance on the highway involving an argument between two men.

When Pawlowski confronted the aggressor, this male pulled the trigger on a gun which he had concealed in the pocket of his jacket. As officer Pawlowski’s partner drew his gun and killed the assailant, John fell to the ground, the sixth Philly cop killed in the line of duty in less than a year and a half.

There have been seven Philadelphia police officers killed in the line of duty stretching to the robbery-murder of officer Gary Skerski in May of 2006.

The violence against the police officers who are trying their best to protect the citizens of an increasingly hostile city was just too much for a young woman by the name of Courtney Agger.

Not the wife or family member of an officer, Courtney was just a young woman in her twenties who was among the many who were sick and tired of all of the attacks on cops. She wanted to do something, and in the spirit of the 21st century she took to the internet.

A member of the ‘Facebook’ community that is perhaps today’s most popular internet gathering place, Courtney started a grass-roots effort to organize a march in support of Philly cops. In remembrance of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, both in recent years and throughout the past.

Her little Facebook group advertised a march to take place on Sunday, March 1st, 2009 beginning near the Skate Zone facility in Northeast Philadelphia and proceeding around the Northeast Airport to the home of Philly’s 8th police district at Academy & Red Lion Roads.

Agger likely envisioned dozens, perhaps hundreds if it went well, of her friends and other sympathizers marching in support. Little did she know the power of both the internet and of her cause.

At yesterdays march, thousands turned out in an overwhelming outpouring of emotion and support for Philadelphia’s embattled police force. There were a number of police brass and union officials on hand, regular officers like myself, as well as numerous friends and family members. T-shirts, sweatshirts, wristbands, flags and other items were sold.

In the week leading up to the march, Philadelphia police detective Al Ford was attempting to serve a warrant when he was shot in the leg. Another officer returned fire and killed Ford’s assailant. Ford was taken to the hospital and is going to be okay, but his shooting highlights that this is far from over.

As a color guard led Sunday’s procession, Courtney Agger had to allow herself to feel just a little pride for what she had accomplished. It was completely justified. Grass-roots support from the community such as that showed by Agger is absolutely appreciated and even needed by the Philadelphia Police Department.

We have been seriously demoralized by what has happened in recent months, and outreach such as this sincerely touches us all and reminds us of why we do what we do, that it is important to continue, and that it actually affects peoples lives.

Goodbye, Tim Simpson

I didn’t find out until about five minutes ago. Last night, I went to bed at around 11:00 pm, and so I missed the news at that time. Just waking up this morning, I poured myself the first cup of coffee of the day, and fired up the computer. Then a local news anchor said those words on TV:

Our top story, the Philadelphia Police Department is again in mourning this morning…

My head whipped around to the television screen. Sergeant Tim Simpson of the 24th district was dead following a horrific car crash at approximately 10:45 pm last night. He was killed at Aramingo & Allegheny Avenues while responding to a robbery call, possibly by a drunk driver who was speeding.

This is the second of our officers to lose their in an auto accident within the last few months, after Izzy Nazario was killed back in the late summer.

Simpson is the fourth Philly cop killed during 2008, the fifth within the last full year, the sixth on-duty in a terrible two-and-a-half years stretching back to Gary Skerski’s murder in spring of 2006.

With Walter Barclay’s death from wounds that he received decades ago in a shooting, it marks the seventh Philly cop to die of an on-duty incident in that same time period.

My stomach flips again, and I say a prayer for the officer, his family and friends, his co-workers, and all police officers. It has grown beyond ridiculous at this point. We got almost, almost, a two-month break this time. We deserve years without such tragedy at this point.

They all need to be remembered as a group: Walt Barclay, Gary Skerski, Chuck Cassidy, Steve Liczbinski, Isabel Nazario, Pat McDonald, and now Tim Simpson.

Ironically, Simpson had worked closely with Liczbinski, and was the officer given the responsibility of cuffing the murderer of his fellow Sergeant and former partner just this past spring.

We will again cover our badges with mourning crepes, again put on our blouse coats, again make funeral arrangements, again bury a fellow officer.

This time it will be a brother with a wife and children who we will bury during a season when we, and they, are normally supposed to be giving thanks.

To make matters possibly worse to me, I saw a picture of the officer. He looked a lot like an officer who I served with early in my police career back in the 6th district, Terry Simpson.

I wonder if they are related, possibly brothers.That would make an already intolerable situation even more personal, with my own brother also on the job and both of us knowing Terry. We will find out more of these details in the coming hours and days, but there is one thing that we already know.

The Philadelphia Police Department has a very dark cloud hanging over it right now. The winter cold has settled over the area this morning, the first real morning of frost. It feels even colder now. This has to end. Doesn’t it?

Look at the rack on Jocelyn Kirsch!


Headline grab your attention? The picture perhaps? Maybe it was the combination? Well, that is exactly the point of this posting.

In a city where murder happens on an almost daily basis, why are the crimes of Jocelyn Kirsch worth all the attention that they have received?

Sure it’s not right to steal the credit card information of friends and use same to take a vacation and spend on your own vanities and desires. It’s a crime, and if caught you go to prison.

But the funny thing is that this type of non-violent crime happens all the time. The not funny aspect is that credit card fraud, identity theft, selling ‘hot’ or ‘knock-off’ goods, and many other methods of fraud are used all the time by terrorists and organized crime organizations to further their nefarious purposes.

Often times these are purposes that directly affect our national security, the security of all the citizens of our entire city of Philadelphia. But rarely, if ever, have I seen a detailed expose’ on this problem with continual follow-ups relating to these large criminal organizations that keep a spotlight on updates highlighting the individuals and businesses involved.

No, what you see, frankly, is Jocelyn Kirsch’s bikini shots. Kirsch is a good looking woman with a nice figure. An attractive woman by most any man’s standards. And there are attractive and even sexy photos of her available to the public.

There is no other reason that the story of Kirsch and her paramour, Edward Anderton, who in the end defrauded a dozen friends of a little more than $100,000 total, is still so much in the spotlight.

So much worse is happening out here in the world that goes completely uncovered simply because there is no ‘sexy’ angle for the media to work. Frankly, that is not really true.

The public wants to hear and know the stories behind the everyday criminals and miscreants that wreak havoc on their neighborhood and city. They want the spotlight turned on these individuals, to have their pictures spread across the newspapers, to have the media look into their lives and their backgrounds and their criminal records. But except for the occasional ‘worst of the worst’ heinous offenders, it just doesn’t happen on a regular basis.

Women who are, shall we say, less attractive than most are abducted every day, are the victims of abuse every day, commit crimes of that heinous nature every day.

But television programs such as CNN’s Headline News staple ‘Nancy Grace’ choose to constantly go for the ‘sex sells’ angle. They only take and publicize stories involving attractive women who go missing, attractive women who kill their kids, attractive women who go bad. And if they can get their hands on video or photos of them in bikinis, or tight tops, or bare midriffs, or cavorting at clubs they will show them to us over and over and over again.

Jocelyn Kirsch ripped off some friends and is going to jail for it. But we don’t need to keep seeing the same old bikini shots every time the story is told. In fact, we don’t need to hear this story ever again. Kirsch is not worth our time, and in fact the publicity likely just feeds that ego that she herself was feeding with her crimes all along.

Here’s to hoping that in 3-5 years when she and Anderton are released we won’t hear about it at all, and won’t see those same old pictures drug out yet again.

If you are that hard up to look at Jocelyn Kirsch’s boobs, just pull up this story and there they go. But start demanding that our local and national news media get away from this blatant sexuality that they would scream is a sexist position if taken against one of them.

No hijab on the job

The Philadelphia Police Department has a series of dozens of what are known as ‘Directives’ which govern nearly every facet of a police officer’s work. From their uniforms to their firearms, from the proper procedures for obtaining warrants to the proper procedures for recording daily work assignments.

Every single person who signs up to become a Philadelphia police officer is aware of these directions, qualifications, and restrictions.

The uniform serves a couple of specific purposes. Not only does it identify each wearer as a police officer, but it also engenders respect.

It’s formality let’s those who come in contact with an officer know that they are dealing with someone who represents their municipality in an official capacity.

The uniformity shows that all those wearing the particular uniform are parts working together as one entity in carrying out their respective individual duties.

The Philadelphia Police Department is a para-military unit, which means that they are a group of civilians organized in a military fashion. Much of the uniformity, weaponry, and tactics of being a police officer are drawn from the military services.

Today, the uniform of the Philadelphia Police officer is under assault by a handful of special interest and religious groups. A female officer from North Philly’s 35th District, publicly identified in the local media as officer Kim Webb, claims that she became a Muslim after being hired for the police job. Webb states that her faith requires her to wear a ‘hijab’ at all times in public, and so now wants to wear this garment along with the rest of her police uniform.

This article of clothing is completely religious in character, and has nothing to do with her police job, and is nowhere to be found on the list of proper uniform items in the PPD. Bottom line, P/O Webb is not allowed to wear the item while in uniform.

But that is not good enough for P/O Webb, just as other officers in the past have not been happy with the department’s policies on beards, piercings, tattoos, and other items. The fact of the matter is that these people all know what they are getting into when they sign up. If the don’t like the rules, they shouldn’t become a cop.

If something about their lives changes, such as a religious awakening of some sort, and it triggers a conflict with their departmental assignments or standards, then that person needs to either find a way to conform to the work requirements during on-duty hours, or they need to resign their position.

There is no constitutional ‘right’ for me to tattoo a crucifix on my head, or wear crucifix earrings or pins, or a Jewish officer to wear a yarmulke, or any officer to wear a beard in uniform, as there is none for this officer to wear a hijab.

As a Catholic, I have received ‘ashes’ on Ash Wednesday and left them on during work hours. Of course, they were gone the next day. I wasn’t looking to wear ashes every day, or wear a crucifix on the outside of my uniform around my neck.

Now Webb has filed a law suit, and has been joined in it by another Muslim female and a handful of ethnic and religious organizations. What we are seeing happen is the attempted opening of Pandora’s Box, and what the history of this liberal city and it’s cop-killer releasing judiciary has is a strong liberal record on these types of things.

Courts in the past have ruled that as long as an employee has a sincerely held religious belief, they should be accommodated as well as possible. This horrible ruling, allowing for any manner of possible abominations, has killed morale in a number of companies and municipalities.

It is long past time for the judiciary to backup the legitimate standards, structure, and morale of the Philadelphia police department and other employers before those things become a thing of the past. The courts should absolutely say no hijab on the-job.

And Philadelphia police supervisors and commanders should solidly enforce the uniform regulations as regards items such as religious or ethnic organization pins, hijabs, yarmulkes, hair lengths and styles, piercings, tattoos, beards, and more.

The one that got away

It was just after 1:00 AM in the freezing cold early morning hours of Friday, January 30th, 1970. To put in perspective how long ago it was, just three weeks earlier the Beatles had performed together in the studio for the final time, and it was just 3 weeks since a new soap opera ‘All My Children’ had made its debut on television.

The remnant of a previous snowfall still coated the ground as rookie Philadelphia police officer Fred Cione pushed his red patrol car around the corner and into the 1700 block of west Oxford Street in the city’s 23rd district.

My wife, the former Debbie Marshall Howe, grew up just two doors from Fred’s family on Huntingdon Street in the city’s Kensington section. As a 14-year old budding adolescent at that time, she already recognized that Freddie, a single Vietnam vet, was ‘really handsome’ and ‘built’.

As this handsome 25-year old rookie cop drove onto Oxford Street that night he came upon three men and found something suspicious about them, or their behavior, or just the fact of them being on the streets in that location on that kind of night.

What we do know for sure is that Freddie got out and approached the three, and that one of them opened fire on him with three gunshots, one of which went into this chest and another into his gut. The men ran off, and Freddie was left to die like a dog in a North Philly gutter. That was almost three full decades ago.

Just last week, in my role as an instructor with the Philadelphia Police Department’s Advanced Training Unit, I was teaching a CPR class. One of the cops in attendance wore the name tag ‘Cione’, and I asked if he was a relative of Fred. The young man responded that he was Fred Cione’s nephew.

I am quite sure that he has heard the story a number of times already in his life. His own father, Fred’s brother Nick, became a Philly cop following his brother’s death. Two of Nick’s own sons subsequently have become Philly cops as well.

The murder of Fred Cione on that cold January night came back to me in the past couple of days as we here in Philly suffered the murder of yet another of our young officers, Pat McDonald. Pat is the fifth Philly cop to be murdered in the last 2 1/2 years.

But there is one big difference between the murders of Fred Cione and that of Pat McDonald and other Philadelphia officers murdered in the line of duty such as Chuck Cassidy, Gary Skerski, Steve Liczbinski, Izzy Nazario, Danny Faulkner, Lauretha Vaird, Steve Dmytryk, Danny Boyle, and Leddie Brown.

The big difference is that the murder of Fred Cione remains the only murder of a Philadelphia police officer that has never been solved.

Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo and his top investigators were never able to find anything to solve the case: no real suspects, no murder weapon, no motive.

The police Homicide Unit has never let the case die, assigning top detectives to take a new look at it every so often, but no one has ever come up with any substantive leads. The only reliable witness, a female, was brought in to look at thousands of photos over the years, but was never able to identify anyone.

The case remains the ultimate frustration for all of us as Philadelphia police officers. When one of us goes down on the job at the hands of a bad guy, the very least that we expect is that our brothers and sisters will hunt our killer down to the ends of the earth, and bring that killer to justice, one way or another.

The three evil specters whom it was the unfortunate fate of Freddie Cione to run into on that cold, dark, wintry January night so long ago remain demons that we have never been able to exorcise.

Think about and remember Freddie Cione as you drive past his mural. It is painted on the Aramingo Avenue side of his neighborhood recreation center, just south of Lehigh Avenue. He shares the mural with Joey Friel, another neighborhood native killed in the line-of-duty.

We not only must never forget Fred Cione, but we must specifically remember him and his case, and never allow justice to elude us again.