Remarks of United States Attorney McSwain Addressing the Philadelphia Police Department
Philadelphia Police Academy, Philadelphia, PA ~ Thursday, April 26, 2018
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you very much, Deputy Commissioner Coulter, for that kind introduction. It is truly an honor to be here with all of you. And it is the honor of my lifetime to serve as your United States Attorney.
I’m going to talk to you today for a while, but before I get into the details of my speech, I have a message for you. It’s an important message, a serious message – it’s a message you need to hear. I’m going to keep it real simple. Are you listening? I want everyone in this room to look at me right now and hear this message.
I love what you do. I love what you stand for. When you put on your uniform, you are telling the world that you have dedicated your life to public service, dedicated your life to keeping our communities safe – and that you’re even willing to risk your own life to do it. I respect you, I admire you, and I thank you. Everybody in this room is a hero to me. That’s what I think, and now you know exactly where I stand.
I am blessed to be leading a U.S. Attorney’s Office that is filled with good, honorable, dedicated prosecutors who want nothing more than to serve the public and do justice. And they are very, very good at what they do. But no prosecutor has ever prosecuted any case without the help of an outstanding law enforcement partner, like our partners in the Philadelphia Police Department.
Throughout my life, I have always been interested in how others define their core values. After all, those who spend the time considering and publicly stating their values are more likely to follow through and live their lives based on those values. The Philadelphia Police Department memorializes its values in the Department motto on its official shield: “Honor, Service, Integrity.” You believe in these values so strongly that you literally wear them on your uniform sleeve every single day. The Department’s stated mission is to be the model of excellence in policing by partnering with the community to fight crime, enforcing laws while safeguarding the constitutional rights of all people, and providing quality service to all of Philadelphia’s residents and visitors. The Department also strives to recruit, train, and develop exceptional individuals within its ranks.
When I consider the Department’s values, they make me thankful, and they make me proud. I see many of my own core values mirrored in those of this Department. This should come as no surprise. After all, the missions of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Philadelphia Police Department are rooted in the same foundation: to serve and protect the community, and to do justice. Earlier this month, in my first few days as the U.S. Attorney, I met with all of my prosecutors to explain my core values to them. These values help us to pursue justice and serve our community in every situation, no matter the individual, location, or circumstance. My core values are these: accountability, bravery, integrity, respect, determination and excellence. These are values that are also embraced by Commissioner Ross and this Department.
And living by these values has allowed the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Philadelphia Police Department to achieve great success in the pursuit of justice. For example, together, we continue to fight the war against the opioid epidemic. In late December, four Philadelphia men (Basil Bey, Reginald White, Tyrik Upchurch, and Amin Wadley) were convicted by a federal jury on all counts in connection with their participation in a large heroin and crack cocaine distribution ring. For over a year and a half, this group worked in shifts to sell these deadly narcotics nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week to customers in South Philadelphia. Some of these drug deals were within 1,000 feet of a playground. Due to the dedicated efforts of this Department and other law enforcement, we were able to obtain a wiretap in the case, and law enforcement made approximately thirty-five controlled purchases of heroin and/or crack from this drug group, with all purchases being captured on video. It is this kind of extensive and dedicated police work that allowed a jury to return a verdict of guilty on all counts. Congratulations to the 1st, 3rd and 17th Police Districts – over a dozen Task Force Officers and police officers testified at trial and assisted in the investigation.
We also know that drug-trafficking is not just happening in the streets, but also in doctor’s offices across our jurisdiction. Just this month, in another joint effort with your Department, Dr. Azad Khan was sentenced to two years in prison for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and two counts of distribution of controlled substances. Khan and his doctor co-defendants held themselves out as professional addiction treatment specialists, but instead preyed on the very people they should have been helping. They abandoned their ethics to engage in the prescription-for-pay criminal world, recklessly selling preprinted prescriptions for cash and choosing greed over their duty to heal. Dr. Khan would not have been indicted and convicted at trial without the determination and dedication of this Department. Congratulations to the Department’s Intensive Drug Investigation Squad for its undercover work during this investigation.
And we do not only pursue resolutions in the courtroom, but outside of the courtroom as well. In February, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that it had joined with the Philadelphia Police Department and other federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to form an Opioid Law Enforcement Task Force. The Task Force will be responsible for developing, implementing, and coordinating a robust prosecution response to this national health emergency, and the Task Force could not be successful without your partnership.
Our work together does not only involve the drug epidemic. For example, in January, a federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment, charging defendant Kenneth Lewis with wire fraud. The indictment alleges that the defendant committed wire fraud by applying for credit cards using information of several non-profit organizations and an individual, and used the cards to purchase gold coins, precious metals, and diamond earrings. In this case, your Department partnered with the U.S. Postal Service in its investigation. Kudos to detectives in the Northeast Division for helping to put this case together.
And just last month, a grand jury returned a federal indictment charging Shyniquah Lightner and Malik Hudson with sex trafficking of a minor. According to the Indictment, the defendants used force, threats of force, fraud, and coercion to make multiple women engage in commercial sex acts, with two of those females being under 18 years of age. If convicted, each defendant faces a mandatory minimum of 15 years of incarceration, up to a lifetime sentence. It was this Department’s hard work and collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other partners on the Philadelphia Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force that made this investigation successful and furthered our collective goal to keep our children safe from exploitation. Congratulations to your Special Victims Unit – Anti Human Trafficking Task Force for its work on that case.
I could go on and on about our successful pursuits together. It is by living this Department’s values – Honor, Service, Integrity – that allows everyone in this room and on this force to pursue challenging investigations, succeed in stopping crimes, and hold the responsible parties accountable. And you have had many successes, and I know that you will continue to do so. But that does not mean that this will always be an easy road.
Indeed, it is harder today than perhaps in any time in American history to be serving in law enforcement. It has become somewhat fashionable in certain segments of the population to come out against the police and law enforcement. To his great credit, Commissioner Ross has not shied away from having an open dialogue about this criticism. Commissioner Ross has embraced this challenge, to make sure that every individual in every community knows that this Department is here for them, to serve and protect them. He has stressed building partnerships across this city, and under his leadership, this Department has made great strides.
But even with such strides, we all know that each and every one of you lives your life under a microscope. And not only are the police under scrutiny like never before, the tools of that heightened scrutiny are ever-present. Everything that you do and everything that you say can be posted on Facebook, tweeted, and made into a national news story in a matter of seconds. For those of you with family members who have previously served in law enforcement, this is one of those times where you can tell them at the Thanksgiving table that you do, in fact, have it much harder than they ever did.
You need to be aware of this constant drumbeat of attention. But I encourage you not to shy away from it. I want you to embrace it. Because when the media and the citizens of our community actually get the opportunity to look more closely, they get to see hard-working police officers who are keeping our communities safe every single day. Some agenda-driven individuals may want to highlight a more critical viewpoint for their own purposes. But I prefer to deal with the truth that can be found in statistics and facts, rather than in anti-factual ideology.
The fact is that officer-involved shootings have decreased significantly over the past few years. In 2012, there were 59 officer-involved shootings in Philadelphia. In 2017, there were 14, which is a 76% decrease from 2012 and over a 41% decrease from only the year before. I know that this is not by happenstance or good fortune, but by Commissioner Ross’s and the Department’s focus on improved training, internal accountability, and an ever-present commitment to public safety. These are not the only numbers that are down. Compared to this time last year, homicide is down by approximately 15%. This is due to many factors, including your ability to build better and lasting relationships between different Philadelphia communities and law enforcement. This Department has made foot patrols a staple of its strategy. Every new police officer walks a foot beat, and this makes a real difference in this city. It helps the community see you, and it shows our citizens that you are responsive and available for developing meaningful relationships and for having conversations with them, not just in an emergency, but in everyday life.
This Department has seen many successes under Commissioner Ross’s leadership. Not only do the statistics prove that, but so does the fact that I easily found those statistics (and many more) on the Internet, right on the website of the Philadelphia Police Department. And the free-flowing information does not end there. This Department now uses social media to connect with the world, providing testimonials by and for current and future police officers, while also trying to entice the public to learn more in order to have a greater understanding of who you are and what you do. Under the Commissioner’s leadership, this Department has embraced transparency more than ever before. There are real benefits of such openness with the community. First, this kind of transparency is one of many tools that can be used in crime prevention, and it may help spark community ideas as to how to solve some of our problems. Second, the community deserves to have access to information detailing where crime is occurring. Finally, when the community sees this hard data, our residents understand the determination and successes that you have on a daily basis, and can rest assured that their trust and faith in you is deserved.
Two and a half years ago, when Mayor Kenney first announced that Commissioner Ross would lead the Department, the Commissioner answered questions from the press. I was struck at the time, and I still am, that he stated that he wanted everyone at the table and wanted to hear everyone’s input. Commissioner Ross encouraged everyone to roll up his or her sleeves and get in there. In committing both himself and this Department to improving the quality of life in Philadelphia, Commissioner Ross hoped that everyone would “take something and make it a little better than the way you found it.”
There will always be opportunities to make things better. This Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the City of Philadelphia will continue to face challenges. Philadelphia has a population of over 1.5 million people, making it the sixth most populous city in the country. This Department is the nation’s fourth largest police department, with over 6,300 sworn members and 800 civilian personnel. And while this entire Department works tirelessly to keep crime down, none of us will ever be able to eradicate crime entirely. While homicides are down in 2018, there were more homicides in the city in 2017 than there had been in any year since 2012.
One of Philadelphia’s greatest challenges right now continues to be the struggle against gun violence. I know that this Department is battling against the gun violence epidemic every single day, in part by sending officers to the most violent parts of the city at the most violent times of day. It is your determination, your hard work, and your bravery that will continue to chip away at the violence that threatens this city.
Philadelphia needs you now more than ever. We know what happens if the officers in a police department become demoralized and let it affect their work. All we have to do is look to our neighbor to the south, the City of Baltimore, which is now described as the most dangerous city in America, with an alarmingly high rate of violence and the highest per capita murder rate in the country. We’ve come too far in Philadelphia to go backwards now. We can’t become the next Baltimore. The law-abiding citizens of this City deserve better – they deserve safe neighborhoods where they can work and play without fear. They deserve your best efforts. They are counting on you, and so am I.
I know there are many leaders within the Department here today, and I want to salute your continued stewardship of this force over all of these years. You have led this Department proudly to where it stands today. And just as importantly, we have the most recent recruits in the Police Academy. To the newest members of the Department, I want to congratulate you on your success in getting here and on your willingness to devote yourselves to public service.
If you only remember one thing that I say today, I want you to remember this: thank you. Thank you for your partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in pursuing justice. Thank you for your leadership in the community and for keeping all of us safe. Thank you for the sacrifices that you and your loved ones make on a daily basis. While I have never had the honor of serving as a police officer, I did serve as a Marine prior to my legal career. I know that the hours are long, that the danger is real, and that the salary will never match what you deserve and what you could earn in the private sector. But we do not serve for the pay or the glory. We serve because there is no greater purpose in this life than to serve others.
So on your longest, hardest, most challenging days, do not give up. Remember that the U.S. Attorney’s Office stands beside you; we could not do our work without you. We see your service and we know your sacrifice. Remain determined in your pursuit of Honor, Service, and Integrity. In the words of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Thank you, and God Bless you all.