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Police, DA candidate spar after Philadelphia primary

PHILADELPHIA — A day after becoming the Democratic candidate for district attorney, Larry Krasner responded to a swell of criticism from the local police union, the Republican Party and prosecutors about the prospect of the long-time civil rights attorney serving as Philadelphia’s top law enforcement officer.

Mr. Krasner, 56, a criminal defense attorney for 30 years, bested a field of seven Tuesday with a progressive agenda that promised criminal justice reform, a moratorium on seeking the death penalty and increased prosecution of police misconduct. In Philadelphia, where Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to one, Mr. Krasner has a good chance of winning in November when he will face Republican Beth Grossman.

But concerns among some members of law enforcement over what the office would become with an outsider at the helm were fanned Tuesday night after a small group of Krasner supporters at his election night party began a profanity-laced chant aimed at the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union.

John McNesby, president of FOP Lodge 5, called Mr. Krasner’s supporters “the parasites of the city,” on Wednesday and again lambasted Mr. Krasner’s candidacy.

“His election to that position would be catastrophic to the department and the community as a whole,” Mr. McNesby said.

Mr. Krasner defended his supporters’ First Amendment rights to chant, “no good cops in a racist system,” and a more pointed refrain aimed at the the FOP.

“I’m a great believer in free speech,” Mr. Krasner said at a press conference in Center City Wednesday afternoon. “… that does not mean I always agree with everything that is said.”

Mr. Krasner said he’s confident he can work well with police and prosecutors in the District Attorney’s office. He dismissed the criticism lobbed his way as politics fueled by the Republican Party and unions, not rank and file police. The city’s Republican Party sent out a fundraising email Wednesday referencing the chant and seeking donations to defeat Mr. Krasner, who they dubbed an “anti-law enforcement radical.”

“These are unions. They are not the commissioner. The are not the brass,” Mr. Krasner said.”They’re not even police in the sense of being on active duty.”

Some officers who talked to the Inquirer on Wednesday reported a common fear that Mr. Krasner – who has sued law enforcement upward of 75 times – would seek to make an example of any police officer involved in a shooting or other altercation, even if it the officer’s action was justified. They said morale in the department was low following his primary election.

“It puts you on edge,” said Officer Eddie Lopez Sr., president of the city’s Spanish American Law Enforcement Association. “Now you’re going to have to second-guess yourself, which is not a good thing. It could end up costing your life or a civilian’s life if you second-guess yourself.”

Mr. McNesby, calling Mr. Krasner “anti-law enforcement,” went so far as to suggest police wait to act when confronted by a dangerous situation while on duty.

“Pull over to the side of the road and call the District Attorney’s Office,” he said. “Don’t do a damn thing because you’re not going to be covered.”

Mr. Krasner dismissed Mr. McNesby’s suggestion that, should he be elected, police might lie down on the job out of fear of prosecutorial retaliation.

“It’s irresponsible to suggest that law enforcement officers, who are paid by taxpayers, would not do what they are required and ordered to do by the police commissioner but would still be taking home a paycheck,” Mr. Krasner said, “That would be advocating a crime.”

Mr. Krasner said he had a constructive telephone conversation with police Commissioner Richard Ross on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m extremely optimistic that, if elected, I will work very, very closely and very well with the progressive commissioner who’s trying to modernize the police department and has frankly needed the backing of a progressive DA for a very long time,” he said.

The FOP had not determined who it will endorse in the general election, Mr. McNesby said. He put out an open invitation to both candidates to meet with the union.

“I can tell you we’re going to be talking to Beth and anybody else that may come out as an independent in the future,” he said. “Listen, we’re not going to shut our doors on this guy [Mr. Krasner] either. If he wants to talk, we’ll be available.”

Ms. Grossman, reached Wednesday, said she thinks some of the early discontent from law enforcement could bode well for her campaign come November.

“Throughout the entire primary (Mr. Krasner’s) done nothing but express contempt for prosecutors, for the office, for all those candidates who’ve had prosecutorial experience,” Mr. Grossman said. “This cannot be a social experiment. This is about keeping our city safe.”

Inquirer staff writer Chris Palmer contributed.