Evan M. Lopez
[ special treatment ]
Last year, in an article published by the Inquirer, the Police Department's largest union claimed that police "courtesy cards" — better known on the street as "get-out-of-jail-free" cards — were "basically worthless."
Funny, then, that City Paper has found the cards popping up again amid this year's election — and, contrary to being worthless, going for a handsome price indeed. The cards — pocket-size blue notes, signed by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President John McNesby — state that "all courtesies of the organization" should be given to the card's carrier. According to local legend, flash the card after getting pulled over (for, presumably, a minor offense) and you might get a warning instead of a ticket.
Traditionally, police officers have provided the cards to family members and friends. But according to a letter recently sent out by the FOP, the union is also handing them out to folks who support their favorite candidates.
In the April 12 letter obtained by CP, the FOP invites donors to a fundraiser for Jim DiVergilis, a candidate for judge in the Court of Common Pleas. For a $500 donation to DiVergilis' campaign, the letter reads, contributors will receive "15 courtesy cards signed by our president." For $100, they get 10 cards; for $50, five cards.
Asked whether handing out passes to essentially break the law isn't, well, a little inappropriate for a candidate for judge, DiVergilis claimed, "I don't know anything about the cards," adding, "Mr. McNesby is doing that." McNesby, who chairs DiVergilis' campaign, maintains, as he did to the Inquirer last year, that the cards are meaningless. "Maybe 20 years ago," admits McNesby, the card helped carriers avoid tickets. "But now we have cops locking up cops," he says. "It's a different breed of police today."
Then why bother passing them out at political fundraisers? "It's like coin-collecting groups, patch-collecting groups," says McNesby. "A lot of people collect cards from different organizations."
"It's a thing of the past," concurs police spokesman Lt. Ray Evers.
Nakedphilly.com, a local real estate blog, found that DiVergilis isn't the only one enjoying such donor enticements: 6th Council District candidate Bobby Henon's campaign, that blog reports and FOP president McNesby confirms, made a similar offer.
As of press time, Henon did not respond for comment.
Both DiVergilis and Henon have been endorsed by the FOP. Since the union has endorsed hopefuls in every Council race, as well as several judicial candidates, CP asked each person supported by the FOP if their campaign has received any courtesy cards. As of press time, no other candidates said they did.
McNesby says that so far this year, the FOP has provided cards only to supporters of DiVergilis and Henon's campaigns. "But I'd do it again," he adds.