Joseph P. Sullivan on Policing Philly

Retired Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner Joseph P. Sullivan believes in the need for criminal justice reform and police reform, but he also believes that it needs to be done in a thoughtful and reasonable way. Image | Courtesy of Joseph P. Sullivan

In my last column, retired Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner Joseph P. Sullivan offered his take on the police leadership’s response to the violent protests, arson and looting that occurred in Philadelphia after the death of George Floyd.

I mentioned to Sullivan that in the aftermath of the violent protests, some 700 protesters were released, and it appears that the only people charged with serious crimes were cops. I asked him for his view of the arrest of Inspector Joseph Bologna.

“I can understand why the case was thrown out initially,” Sullivan replied. “I think that is an example of a knee-jerk reaction. The inspector was arrested within 24 hours. I looked at the video over and over again and I’m not seeing what he was charged with. If I were the district attorney, I would have taken more time to review the evidence. You want to make sure that when you arrest a police officer, you’ve got a solid case.”

I asked him why he was supporting Chuck Peruto for DA against Larry Krasner.

“I’m a life-long Philadelphian and I’m retired from the police department after 38 years. I love my city,” Sullivan said. 

He said he believes in the need for criminal justice reform and police reform, but he also believes that it needs to be done in a thoughtful and reasonable way. 

“What I’ve seen is a disturbing rise in violence, chaos and disorder, and this is not good for the city. I believe it is time to go in a different direction,” Sullivan said. “I remember being grilled by Chuck Peruto on the stand and he is very passionate about what he does. I think he will be a moderate DA, one who will continue with reform and hold police officers accountable.

“When a police officer breaks the law, he will be arrested and prosecuted, but in kind, I believe Peruto will vigorously pursue violent criminals. There is a small number of people in our city that are wreaking havoc and there is an epidemic of gun violence in our city that needs to be addressed,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said that people who hurt people need to be taken out of society. Violence traumatizes neighborhoods and Sullivan noted that the vast majority of violence occurs in poor neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color. 

“They are traumatized by what they’re seeing, growing up in these neighborhoods, hearing gunshots, seeing shooting victims, hearing constant sirens, and we need to make a difference in these communities,” Sullivan said. “I believe that Peruto will work with these communities and form a partnership, in the same way that police need to partner with communities.” 

Sullivan said the problem will not be solved solely by law enforcement and it won’t be solved solely by social services. It is a matter of both working independently but cooperatively to make a difference. 

I mentioned that nearly all of the cops I’ve talked to believe that the mayor, the DA and police commissioner don’t support the police.

“I talk to a lot of police officers of all ranks every day and right now there is a lot of confusion,” Sullivan replied. “What are the expectations? What is it you want us to do?  They are receiving a lot of mixed signals. They believe if they make a mistake or even if they don’t make a mistake and there is an allegation, they’re not sure what the response will be as the response is generally inconsistent. Morale is extremely low in the department.” 

I asked Sullivan about his take on the defund the police movement.

“It is a vocal minority. What we know from research from academia, is that 81 percent of African Americans in America do not want less police. They do want better police and they want to be safe. We have a responsibility to provide them with both of those things,” Sullivan said. 

“We have already seen the impact of defunding. Look at the murder rate. It is outrageous. And the vast majority of people who are dying are people of color. So, we are allowing people without voices, people without power, to die because of a small number of people.”

Sullivan said that if you want better training, better equipment, and you want to hire better police officers, it will cost money, 

“The number of police officers in Philadelphia is at an all-point low in modern times and we’ve seen the effects of that,” Sullivan said. 

Would you advise a young person to become a police officer today?

“Absolutely. Change the profession for the better.” 

Paul Davis’ Crime Beat column appears here each week. You can contact him via 

    • Paul Davis

      Having worked as a crime reporter and columnist in Philadelphia for many years, Paul Davis has covered organized crime, cybercrime, street crime, white collar crime, crime prevention, espionage and terrorism. He can be reached at

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