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Police union endorses Jeff Brown for mayor

Philadelphia’s police union on Thursday endorsed mayoral candidate Jeff Brown, who is running on a pledge to defeat the city’s political establishment that union leaders believe has failed to adequately support and protect officers.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 is the second municipal union to back Brown, a first-time candidate and the only major contender in the race who has never held political office before. He is also supported by the union that represents thousands of workers in the city’s prisons, recreation, and streets departments.

“Our brave men and women who risk their lives each and every day to protect our city deserve a mayor that has their backs and support,” union President John McNesby said in a statement. “Jeff Brown promises to work collaboratively with the Philadelphia police department to address violent crime in our great city and hire the necessary officers to get the job done.”

The endorsement represents something of a political U-turn for Brown, whose early campaign messaging courted Black voters, emphasized his work opening grocery stores in underserved neighborhoods, and touted his background supporting criminal-justice reform efforts.

In 2017, Brown served on the transition team of progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner, the FOP’s chief political foe. He built his image in part on hiring thousands of ex-offenders to work in his stores, and he has said that he does not think the police department’s nearly $800 million budget should grow.

But Brown has also said police in the city do not feel supported by political leaders. He has been critical of Krasner’s office’s prosecution record, and he has questioned elements of the city’s so-called “driving-equality legislation,” a law aimed at curbing racial bias in police stops that the FOP sued to try to block.

The union’s announcement comes after several days of negative headlines surrounding Brown, who on Monday was accused by the city’s board of ethics of illegally coordinating with an outside group supporting his campaign. Then on Tuesday, a comment he made about trash incineration went viral when he appeared dismissive of concerns voiced by residents of Chester about environmental racism.

» READ MORE: Philly mayoral candidate Jeff Brown calls ethics allegations a ‘political hit job’

Several of Brown’s rivals did not seek an endorsement from the FOP, which represents about 6,000 active-duty officers. Brown said in an interview with The Inquirer’s editorial board last month that he sought the FOP’s backing, saying any union that supports him is “signing up for change.”

“And we know we need them to make a change,” he said. “So I want them to sign up in advance that, ‘This is the manager we want, and these are the changes we are willing to agree to.’”

FOP president John McNesby holds an October press conference to blast an audit released by the office of former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, who is now running for mayor.. … Read moreJoe Lamberti

It’s unclear at this point what those changes are. McNesby has said he is open to some criminal-justice reform measures — including body-worn cameras for officers and behavioral health providers responding with officers to some crime scenes — but the FOP has in general worked to maintain law enforcement’s status quo.

The union’s strength and the city’s police arbitration system makes it challenging for the city to get rid of cops accused of misconduct. The FOP has successfully had police discipline or firings overturned dozens of times over the past decade.

It has also defended a disability program that has been abused for years by officers who made questionable injury claims yet continued to make a city salary, tax-free.

Over the last several years, the FOP has endorsed a mix of Democrats and Republicans for political office. Last year, the union backed Josh Shapiro for governor, the Democratic nominee and former attorney general, as well as Mehmet Oz, the GOP U.S. Senate nominee. Shapiro won; Oz lost to Democrat John Fetterman.

The FOP has been consistent in rejecting progressive politicians, especially those it sees as sympathetic to the “defund the police” movement. No mayoral candidate has said they are in favor of reducing funding to the police department.

Four candidates — Allan Domb, Derek Green, Helen Gym, and Cherelle Parker — were City Council members in 2020 when they voted to cancel a proposed $19 million increase to the police budget. Since then, the annual police budget has increased by more than $50 million.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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