Despite the amazing pictures in produced during OWS’ Day of Action, we here at The New York Observer were wondering about the ethical/legal implications of Philadelphia’s retired Captain Ray Lewis—who joined with the protesters the night before Zuccotti Park was raided, and was arrested on November 17th in full uniform—wearing his police-issued garb while joining with the demonstrators.
Now Philadelphia’s police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has written a letter to Captain Lewis, along with the Fraternal Order of Police admonishing him for his actions. We spoke to PPD’s Public Affairs Officer Lt. Ray Evers, asking him to clarify some of the issues regarding a police officer in uniform while not actively serving.
The letter that Commissioner Ramsey warned Captain Lewis:
“…to immediately cease and desist wearing, using or otherwise displaying any official Philadelphia Police Department uniform, badges or facsimiles thereof or any official departmental insignia.
Be advised that I am prepared to take any and all necessary actions to protect the honor and integrity of the Philadelphia Police Department.”
But what actions could Philly’s police department take, when the NYPD hadn’t charged him with impersonating an officer? And when was it inappropriate for a police officer to wear his uniform when not actively on duty?
“It depends on the place, and it depends if citizens regard the officer as acting on behalf of law enforcement,” Lt. Evers told us over phone today.
“Even though Captain Lewis is a retired officer, every officer knows you have to be middle-road with anything. Some people might be okay with him wearing his uniform during the rally, and he certainly has the right to exercise his first amendment rights…but imagine how people would react if this was a Ku Klux Klan rally and an officer showed up supporting it in uniform. People would go crazy.”
Lt. Evers than advised us that the Ku Klux Klan example had been used in the Commissioner’s speach earlier this morning.
So there you have it: it’s up to the police officers arresting you if wearing your uniform while not on duty is illegal, but ethically, it’s equivalent to showing support of the Klan.