Three Philadelphia police officers with a history of misconduct received promotions with the backing of the police union’s president this week.
Acting Commissioner Christine Coulter advanced the ranks of Thomas Tolstoy and Cindy Caine from officers to sergeants and Edward Pisarek from sergeant to lieutenant alongside nearly 200 other officers during a ceremony at Temple University on Wednesday.
Tolstoy was among four narcotics officers accused of lying about evidence on search warrants and stealing from corner stores during raids that were exposed a decade ago, which sparked federal and local investigations.
Caine was arrested at a seafood restaurant in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, following a domestic battery incident in April.
And Pisarek was among the scores of officers whose names appeared in an online database of police officers who apparently made racist, sexist, violent or otherwise offensive social media posts.
Promotions are based on staffing needs and approval from the city’s Managing Director’s Office, said Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, a police spokesman, in an email. Eligibility is based on a candidate’s performance on an examination.
The commissioner, Kinebrew said, was “limited with regard to the denying of a promotion to an otherwise eligible candidate,” and he declined to comment on Tolstoy and Caine’s promotions, citing labor laws.
But Kinebrew noted the department’s hiring practices affect the public’s perception of the force.
“The Police Department certainly recognizes and understands that policy and personnel decisions have an impact on the level of confidence and trust the community has in the Department,” he said.
Mike Dunn, a spokesman the Kenney administration, said in an email the mayor deferred to the commissioner’s handling of promotions, which are governed by civil service regulations and the union’s contract.
All three officers had been recommended for promotions by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 President John McNesby in a Nov. 20 letter obtained by the Tribune.
The union president’s letter to police brass was not unusual, said Michael Neilon, a spokesman for McNesby.
“He does this all the time,” Neilon said this week.
The FOP has lobbied police officials to promote specific officers since at least 2007, Neilon said. He added that Caine and Tolstoy were eligible for promotions because they were in good standing.
Rochelle Bilal, president of the nonprofit Guardian Civic League which represents Black Philadelphia police officers, and Solomon Jones, who heads the Rally for Justice Coalition which includes a clutch of Black religious and civil rights organizations, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
David Fisher, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the National Black Police Association and a former Philadelphia police detective, declined to comment.
Tolstoy, an officer with the department since 1999, also was accused of sexually assaulting two women during the bodega raids. A federal grand jury heard the case and decided not to prosecute; the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against the unit, according to local news reports.
Tolstoy was placed on desk duty for years, and an internal police inquiry sustained eight findings of misconduct against the squad and Tolstoy received a 30-day suspension, according to local news reports.
Tolstoy earned a base salary of $77,481 in 2018, and brought in an extra $27,892 in overtime, according to the city’s payroll website. His promotion comes with a 14% pay hike, and his new assignment has yet to be determined, a police spokeswoman said in an email.
Caine, hired in 2001, was arrested with her husband, who is also a Philadelphia police officer, and another man, who is a retired city copy, in April.
Caine “forcefully pushed” a Pinellas County sheriff’s officer, according to the Pinellas County sheriff’s office, and was charged with a single count of battery on a law enforcement officer. The two men also received charges.
But prosecutors decided not to file charges against Caine, said state Assistant Attorney Tony Carlow on Friday.
Carlow said “There was a lack of sufficient independent corroborative evidence” against Caine.
Caine earned a base salary of $77,481 in 2018, and brought in an extra $3,972 in overtime, according to the city’s payroll website. Her promotion comes with a 14% pay hike, and her new assignment has yet to be determined, a police spokeswoman said in an email.
Pisarek was one of more than 320 Philadelphia police officers exposed by the Plain View Project.
Following the release of the Plain View Project’s findings, four officers were fired and 11 more resigned before they could get thrown off the force, Coulter has said. Another 148 officers faced other undisclosed disciplinary actions, Coulter has said.
The city and department’s response to the social media postings remains ongoing, Kinebrew said. The department’s intent to fire more than a dozen officers involved in the scandal amounted to the highest number of cops to receive such a penalty stemming from any single investigation.
Online news organization Billy Penn also found that Pisarek had four civilian complaints against him over the last five years.
Pisarek earned a base salary of $87,707 in 2018, plus more than $26,000 in overtime, according to city payroll data.
Problems in the PPD
The police department continues to weather a series of scandals this year.
The previous police commissioner, Richard Ross, unexpectedly resigned in August under a cloud of allegations he failed to address sexual harassment claims against two female officers, one of whom he reportedly had a love affair with.
After Kenney tapped Coulter as interim commissioner, a photo of her surfaced wearing a T-shirt that appeared to mock the brutal beating of Rodney King.
Critics of the department routinely assail the department for failing to adequately discipline officers for alleged misconduct. A 2013 NBC10 investigation found that 9 out of 10 Philadelphia officers fired for alleged wrongdoing find their way back on the force through union arbitration.
City and top police brass have said the police union’s arbitration process for officers accused of misconduct prevents them from taking more serious actions. The police union’s contract expires next year. Contract negotiations between the union and city officials are ongoing.
Dunn said the Kenney administration was actively pursuing changes in the union’s contract and internal polices in an effort to dilute the arbitration process, which has allowed discipline to be overturned.
The mayor has said he is committed hiring a new police commissioner by the end of the year in order to “lead the department through these challenges, and to help restore the public’s confidence.”