Is It Time To Re-Name The Fencl Awards?


[Illustration by ALEX FINE]

DAILY NEWS: The 12th Police District squad car creeps down Chester Avenue, in Southwest Philadelphia, turning the head of nearly everyone on the street. Onlookers squint, their faces tensing up in the sunlight. Passers-by crane their necks to get a better look at who’s behind the wheel before the car comes to an abrupt stop. Everyone watches as an officer emerges and dons his blue police cap, badge No. 2431 gleaming as the sunlight hits the silver at a perfect angle. “Hey Joe!” someone invariably shouts from the street at Officer Joseph Young, the district’s community-relations officer. Instantly, the tension lifts, the mood lightens and an exchange between police officer and citizen looks more like a conversation between old friends. Young, 59, who has worked in Southwest Philadelphia for nearly 25 years, is known as the go-to guy for nearly any issue – crime or otherwise – impacting the Southwest community. He is the winner of the 26th annual Daily News George Fencl Award for outstanding service. MORE

DAILY NEWS: George Fencl died in January, 1985. At the time he was chief of security for the Philadelphia School District, having retired from the Police Department with the rank of chief inspector in 1983, after 33 years on the force. Soon after his death, Chuck Stone, then senior editor of the Daily News, suggested that the newspaper create an annual award for a police officer who exemplifies the qualities of compassion, fairness and civic commitment that marked Fencl’s career. The first award was presented in 1986. It was during the turbulent ‘60s that Fencl, then head of the Police Department’s Civil Affairs Unit, earned his reputation for fairness regardless of the race or creed or cause of the protesters with whom he came in contact. When the award was created, Chuck Stone had this to say about Fencl: “George Fencl was the incarnation of moral integrity and professional excellence. He was able to transcend all races and nationalities. If we had several thousand George Fencls, we would have absolutely the best police force in the world.” MORE

CHUCK STONE: Ironically, George Fencl ’s death reminded us just how good a cop could be. At a time when the Philadelphia police force has been shaken by corruption in its highest echelons and widespread police brutality is further shattering public confidence, George Fencl ’s name brightens a dark sky like a full moon. He avoided physical abuse. He refused to violate constitutional rights. MORE

PW:  The leader of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Civil Disobedience Unit was Lt. George Fencl, a thick-necked man with slicked-back salt-and-liberty-bell-cover.jpgpepper hair. Fencl was a regular fixture at protests and demonstrations in the ’60s and ’70s. It was his job to monitor, identify, photograph and track dissident groups and their sympathizers. Fencl, dressed in his trademark black overcoat with a white armband emblazoned with the word POLICE, and his CDU boys would show up at demonstrations and photograph everyone in the crowd, taking down names and license-plate numbers of those participating. Sometimes Fencl’s men would brandish cameras that had no film, snapping away nonexistent pictures to intimidate and disperse protesters. ? On a 1970 episode of NBC news program First Tuesday, Fencl bragged that the police had a list of over 18,000 names. He also enlisted an army of informers, some of which were criminals cooperating in exchange for charges being dropped and others the wives of police officers encouraged to join activist groups and report back to the CDU in exchange for “pin money.” […] Lieutenant Fencl was eventually promoted to inspector and led the first raid on MOVE. The much-coveted Fencl Award—“bestowed on a police officer who brings a unique blend of courage, integrity and determination to the job,” according to the Daily News , which co-sponsors the award—was named in his honor after his death 24 years ago.? Fraser rolls his eyes when told of the Fencl Award. “He was a guy of bottomless unscrupulousness, and constantly involved in the harassment and intimidation of groups fighting for social justice,” says Fraser. “I think Fencl was very cynical about all this. Although he was not the smartest guy in the world, I am sure he knew, because everybody knew … that the SDS Labor Committee was avowedly anti-violent and in some corners of the SDS we were criticized, severely, for condemning Weatherman-like behavior, because it was destined to isolate the organization, it was immoral and it was politically suicidal. We said all these things publicly and he knew that.” MORE

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