"Once dubbed a 'rat' by my co-workers, I became a pariah throughout the city."
Rat. I grew up in the slums of North Philadelphia. More than one night, I remember waking up and feeling a weight at the bottom of my feet. I would kick hard, then hear thump-thump-thump as the rat made its way down our wooden steps to the first floor. There was nothing filthier, nothing more despicable than a rat. At twenty-one years of age, while in training at the Philadelphia Police Academy, I learned that a “rat” was a criminal who informed on others of his ilk in order to curry favor from prosecutors and receive a lighter sentence than his co-conspirators. My first week assigned to Philadelphia’s 14th Police District, I learned a new meaning for the term “rat”. When some of the old veterans treated me coldly, I was told by newer Police Officers that I had to earn the trust of those who clung to a sometimes-immoral status quo. These officers had to make sure that I wasn’t a rat. In this case, it meant a Police Officer who would report his co-workers for sleeping on duty, taking bribes, stealing from citizens, or shaking down drivers for money or sex when they committed minor traffic violations. In my autobiography, The Long Blue Walk: My Journey as a Philly Cop, I show how I failed this test of “honor among thieves” by the middle of my third shift in my first week. I refused to “take a note” in order to allow a private club to operate after three o’clock in the morning.
Rat. In my tenth year on the job, I was assigned to Philadelphia’s 5th Police District. By my second month, I learned that Police Officers within that district were active participants in a burglary ring which was headquartered within my steady patrol sector. That information came from businesspeople and outraged citizens who learned to trust me. Some of those concerned citizens became my personal informants. My personal observations proved their information was one-hundred percent reliable. Two incidents exposed the insidiousness and boldness of this criminal enterprise. The head of this burglary ring owned a restaurant and threatened a rookie Police Officer for writing a summons and placing it on his car which was illegally parked outside of this business. This man threatened that he was a “personal friend” of the district commander and would have the officer “taken care of”. The officer was shaken— I was angry. The next day, I gave my commander all of the information I had accumulated and informed him of the threat. The commander assured me that he would have his personal investigators (part of the burglary ring) investigate the actions of this criminal.
A few weeks later, these plain clothes investigators (who were nothing more than a burglary team with badges) attempted to shake down two Hall of Fame football players who owned a night club in my patrol sector. Those owners also trusted me and we talked frequently. These businessmen refused to give these corrupt officers any money. Within three weeks, their nightclub was burglarized. Uniformed Police Officers assisted in the heist and stored the stolen property in a vacant store owned by the burglary ringleader. Soon after, a furrier was burglarized by the same team. The burglary ringleader was so emboldened that he sold the furs in his restaurant. My informants, who had no idea about the burglary, told me that the furs still had tags on the sleeves.
As a Police Officer, I felt it was my duty to recover these furs and arrest the perpetrators. As detailed in my book, my efforts were thwarted by my own lieutenant, detectives from the Northwest Division, and a Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney.
Even reporting these activities to the Internal Affairs Bureau and providing them documentary evidence proved to be nothing more than a descent into the hellishness of imbedded police corruption. A person in my district who witnessed the arrival of staff inspectors from the Internal Affairs Bureau overheard one of them stating “How do we get rid of this m…..f…..?” He made that statement to my own district commander. This began decades of harassment during my active career and even after my retirement.
Rat. Once dubbed a “rat” by my co-workers, I became a pariah throughout the city. Everywhere I went, every detail assignment, the word was out that I was a “rat” and could not be trusted. I made sure that I took steps to ensure that police executives and Mayor Frank Rizzo knew exactly what was happening to me—nothing changed. Eventually, I had to be transferred for my own safety to the 12th Police District. Unbeknownst to my commander and Internal Affairs, I revealed the entire operation to a federal task force comprised of federal agents and Philadelphia Police Officers. The ringleader was arrested and over $200,000 in stolen items were recovered. The ringleader was sentenced to five years in federal prison. No police officers were arrested, but my former commander, two police sergeants, and the two burglary team officers were transferred to other assignments. A few years later, some of the remaining officers were arrested with scores of others in an illegal slot machine scandal.
Rat. Just three years ago when the Fraternal Order of Police honored me and other officers for fifty years of membership, I learned that the stigma of “rat” was still intact. A retired police corporal who had been in my squad spent of lot of energy overtly pointing me out to those seated around him. The scowl on his face and my rudimentary lip reading let me know that, with the help of profane adjectives, he let them know I was a “rat”.
When your integrity trumps that blue wall and you report abuses by law enforcement co-workers never expect compliments or commendations. Expect condemnation from spineless police executives and integrity-challenged co-workers. Expect to be despised rather than embraced. Even those who agree with you will make sure that their support is only conveyed in whispers away from public scrutiny.
Whistleblower. I was fortunate. I survived long enough to retire. When you see pictures of whistleblowers, they are often depicted with smiling faces and pressed uniforms. Be ye not deceived. Those smiles mask broken promises, broken dreams, broken careers, and often broken lives. It is nearly impossible for one to maintain both sanity and a career when faced with daily harassment and intimidation from those who professed to be upholding the values of “honor, integrity, and service.” Being a whistleblower can be dangerous. Last year a Philadelphia female police sergeant was beaten on duty by a chief inspector because she reported sexual harassment from superiors. In fact, sexual harassment was so pervasive in the Philadelphia Police Department that the Police Commissioner was forced to resign due to his involvement in instances of moral turpitude and his protection of commanders involved in alleged sexual assaults.
Whistleblower. I was a whistleblower before the term became popular. There were no whistleblower protections when I ascended to the position of “rat”. I had to walk a very fine line. I never let my emotions get the best of me. I documented every bogus disciplinary action, every threat, the date of every punishment detail, and the certitude of every accusation I made about corrupt officers and supervisors within the Philadelphia Police Department.
Years after my retirement in 1992, when the harassment persisted to the extent that I had to move away from Philadelphia, I presented those years of documentation to the new Police Commissioner, Mayor, and the Color of Law Bureau of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That is when the harassment abated, but it did not end my quest to expose immoral and illegal practices by the Philadelphia Police Department.
In 1998, I was featured in an exposé in the Philadelphia Inquirer that revealed the immoral practice of falsifying crime data that was submitted to the FBI for their Annual Uniform Crime Report. Most troubling was the standard practice of downgrading sexual assaults. That practice led to a serial rapist terrorizing Philadelphia’s Center City for years until he raped and murdered Shannon Schieber in 1998. The practice of manipulating crime statistics was sanctioned by every Police Commissioner and Mayor for decades. I tried to stop it while I was a police officer, but I was unsuccessful. When the Dateline NBC television program broadcast this story in January 1999, I found that other cities such as Houston, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia were actively engaged in this same practice.
In the Spring of 2000, I assisted in revealing improper prisoner transportation policies within the Philadelphia Police Department. That resulted in improved safety in transporting prisoners. Sadly, Baltimore, Maryland failed to institute these policies which contributed to the unfortunate death of Freddie Gray in 2015 while being transported by Baltimore Police Officers.
Today, I am an appointed member of the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Advisory Board under the auspices of the Philadelphia District Attorney Lawrence S. Kramer. One focus of the Advisory Board is to reveal past abuses in policing and the judiciary and seek and end to those practices and reconciling losses incurred by those abuses.
In addition, I am a Board Member of the Lamplighter Project. Our mission encourages whistleblowing activity in law enforcement by removing barriers to reporting, preventing retaliation, and elevating ethical officers. Only when these protections are in place can citizens be assured that they are receiving the quality of law enforcement they deserve. We seek to remove the political power of corrupt cops who for decades have been the mortar of that despicable “blue wall of silence”.
In signing books for customers, I include the following quotation: “The light of one match illuminates the darkest forest.” If each of the tens of thousands of honest police officers lit his/her personal match by standing up and speaking out, we would form an inextinguishable lamp that would not only expose evildoers but also be a beacon for every whistleblower in every occupation in America. Help us light that lamp. Support the Lamplighter Project. Visit our website, www.thelamplighterproject.org, learn more about us and those who are dedicated to lighting the lamp of justice often at the risk of their careers, their well-being, and their lives. We have progressed from “rats” to “whistleblowers” to “Lamplighters”. Join us.
Though not grammatically correct, the author has capitalized the title of “Police Officer” to show how proud he is to have served in this honorable position of public trust and service.
Norman A. Carter Jr. was born and raised in North Central Philadelphia, PA. After graduating from Thomas A. Edison High School, he enlisted in the United States Army in 1963 and served as a Combat Medical Corpsman. The following year, he was selected to attend the prestigious United States Military Academy Preparatory School. After graduating in 1966, he was honorably discharged and by the following year had joined the Philadelphia Police Department. Over the course of his 25-year policing career, Norman served in a variety of patrol, administrative, and narcotics assignments earning two commendatory letters and rising to the rank of Police Corporal. Norman joined Philadelphia’s Office of the Inspector General, Welfare Fraud Division in 1993 and retired as a Claims Investigation Agent Supervisor in 1997. After moving to Georgia, he enjoyed a 15 plus year career in the hospitality industry.
His efforts to increase minority representation and root out police corruption within the Philadelphia Police Department are documented in his 2016 memoir, The Long Blue Walk: My Journey as a Philly Cop. He has contributed to a number of journalistic exposés about the manipulation of crime statistics and failure to safeguard prisoners during police transport. Norman has made guest appearances on television, radio, and podcast programs where he speaks on abuse of police authority and criminal justice reform. He is the host and producer of Issues and Answers on the WCEG Internet Broadcast Network.
In December of 2020, Norman was appointed to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Advisory Task Force which focuses on police, prosecutorial, and judicial abuses and reforms. Norman is part of the leadership team at the Cornerstone Church in Snellville, Georgia where he serves on the choir and occasionally delivers homilies. He is currently enrolled in seminary. Married to Vicki Cork-Carter, he is the father of five children, seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.