Good Ol’ Facts Challenge the Ferguson Effect

A Philadelphia Police Department promotion ceremony. | Photo by Mitchell Leff/City of Philadelphia

A Philadelphia Police Department promotion ceremony. | Photo by Mitchell Leff/City of Philadelphia

Last May, the Wall Street Journal ran an article that would make one St. Louis police chief’s musings go viral.

The argument went like this: The death of Michael Brown—and the Black Lives Matter movement that followed—increased scrutiny of police officers across the country, which, in turn, spooked them into less aggressive policing tactics, which, in turn, led to a national crime wave.

If it all sounds speculative to you, that’s because it is. But unfortunately, the long-overdue, critically important conversation the country is having right now about policing means that sometimes half-baked ideas make their way into the public discourse. The theory quickly attracted the attention of politicians and journalists, who deployed critiques that ranged from the interested to the incredulous to the enraged.

During a speech at University of Chicago Law School, FBI Director James Comey said he thought that an increase in violent crime was, at least in part, due to a “chill wind blowing through law enforcement over the last year.” The Alantic’s David Graham called the Ferguson effect “the Bigfoot of American criminal justice: fervently believed to be real by some, doubted by many others, reportedly glimpsed here and there, but never yet attested to by any hard evidence.” Fellow Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates derided it as an “utterly baseless suggestion.”

Last Thursday, NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice produced some sorely-needed data analysis that finally disproved the idea that we’re all living in the middle of a countrywide crime wave. Read more »

Philly Cop Arrested for Assault

joseph marion

Philadelphia Police have arrested one of their own in connection with an attack that took place at a Dunkin’ Donuts in West Oak Lane last winter.

Officer Joseph Marion, 39, a four-year veteran of the force, was arrested today and charged with simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. Read more »

Will Police Reforms Work in Philly?

Philadelphia Police Dept. HQ - Roundhouse

Philadelphia Police Department headquarters (aka The Roundhouse) photo by Beyond My Ken, used under a Creative Commons license

Some discouraging news for advocates of police reform in Philadelphia: A new Washington Post/Frontline investigation has revealed “mixed results” in other cities where the Justice Department intervened to curb the excessive use of force by police departments.

“Measured by incidents of use of force, one of Justice’s primary metrics, the outcomes are mixed,” the Post reported Friday. “In five of the 10 police departments for which sufficient data was provided, use of force by officers increased during and after the agreements. In five others, it stayed the same or declined.” Read more »

5 Things to Know About Philly’s Next Police Commissioner

Philadelphia Mayor-Elect Jim Kenney, right, looks o as Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross speaks during a news conference Wednesday. | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Philadelphia Mayor-Elect Jim Kenney, right, looks o as Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross speaks during a news conference Wednesday. | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

Retiring Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey is the toughest act to follow in Philadelphia by far. He’s overseen a major decline in homicides, fought an admirable (though not always successful) war against bad cops, and won over the news media.

So who’s the poor guy who will replace him? Mayor-elect Jim Kenney announced at a press conference today that, as expected, Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross will become the the city’s next top cop. Ross is a lifelong Philadelphian who has served in the police department since 1989, working in the detective bureau, homicide, Internal Affairs and, most recently, as Ramsey’s No. 2 man.

“I think it’s safe to say we’re just two regular guys,” said Ross of himself and Kenney.

Though he is well-liked and respected in City Hall, much of the general public has never heard of Ross. Here are five things Ross revealed about himself Wednesday: Read more »

Was That a Burning Cross on the Philly Police Twitter Feed?

The original image, left. The replacement, right.

The original image, left. The replacement, right.

The guy in charge of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Twitter account this afternoon decided to post a welcome message to newly appointed Commissioner Richard Ross, and in doing so, it sure looked like he used the image of a burning cross.

It wasn’t, the department’s social media manager says, but he understood why people thought that was what they were seeing. “Swing and a miss on my part,” he told Philly Mag Wednesday afternoon.

Read more »

Richard Ross Named Next Police Commissioner

As expected, Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross is stepping up to take Philadelphia’s top police job, replacing retiring Commissioner Charles Ramsey, and capping a long, quarter-century climb through the department’s ranks.

Mayor-elect Jim Kenney will reportedly introduce Ross as his choice at a midday news conference.

The appointment drew quick praise from law enforcement observers.

“He will be a great leader for the department and will undoubtedly continue on the progressive path established by Commissioner Ramsey,” said SEPTA Police Chief Tom Nestel, who had been considered a long-shot possibility for the job. “The city will be in good hands.”

Read more »

Bill Makes It Illegal to ID Officers Who Shoot Civilians

A Philadelphia Police Department promotion ceremony. | Photo by Mitchell Leff/City of Philadelphia

A Philadelphia Police Department promotion ceremony. | Photo by Mitchell Leff/City of Philadelphia

A Pennsylvania House committee gave an overwhelming thumbs-up to a bill Tuesday that would make it illegal for public officials to release the names of cops who shoot civilians until an “official investigation” is completed.

The panel passed the legislation unanimously.

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 4.24.39 PM Read more »

Charles Ramsey’s Endless, Frustrating War Against Bad Cops

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey stands outside the Palestra after remains of Philadelphia Police Officer Robert Wilson III arrive on Saturday, March 14, 2015, in Philadelphia. City officials said on March 5, 2015 Wilson was shot and killed after he and his partner exchanged gunfire with two suspects trying to rob a video game store. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

IT WAS TIME for Chuck Ramsey to tell everybody a story. Philadelphia’s police commissioner is an artist behind a podium, as comfortable as an old guitarist on a concert stage, shifting effortlessly between folksy charm and eloquence.

But there was no trace of Ramsey the showman on this July morning in 2014. The conference room in the Chestnut Street headquarters of the U.S. Attorney’s Office was lousy with reporters, all of us speed-reading a jaw-dropping 42-page indictment and pounding out one-sentence highlights on our cell phones. The commissioner stood quietly, looking miserable and exhausted, like a gravedigger at the end of a busy day.

Ramsey told us the case was one of the worst examples of police corruption he’d ever seen. And he’s seen plenty. In a nearly 50-year policing career that has taken him from Chicago to Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, Ramsey has encountered just about every crooked-cop trope imaginable — the drunks, the wife-beaters, the shakedown artists and thieves. He’s kicked at least 160 cops to the curb in Philadelphia alone, but that number really doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Each case is maddening. Each one gnaws at Ramsey.

Some of the lowlights have stood out more than others. In 2010, officer Kenneth Crockett was caught stealing $825 from a Frankford bar while responding to a burglar alarm in the wee hours. Small potatoes, maybe, except for the fact that the bar was Pat’s Café, where officer Gary Skerski took his final steps before a shotgun blasted him in the neck in 2006. A cop ripping off a bar was bad enough, but that bar?

Then there was Ron Dove, a walking, talking plot of a Lifetime movie. After his girlfriend allegedly stabbed her ex-boyfriend to death in 2013, police charge, Dove — a veteran homicide detective — went off the deep end. A grand jury found that he fed one line of bullshit after another to detectives who were investigating the murder, working overtime to cover his girlfriend’s tracks. His acts of devotion allegedly included stashing her car in a garage, secreting her away in a hotel in upstate New York, and supplying her with a burner phone from Walmart. (Dove has yet to go to trial.)

Even the bosses, the people Ramsey relied on to set a straight-and-narrow example, were the source of double-Excedrin migraines. In 2012, the Daily News uncovered a string of sexual harassment allegations that had been leveled against an array of commanding officers, including a captain and two inspectors — all of whom kept climbing the career ladder despite a litany of lawsuits and complaints.

The crime allegations and embarrassing behavior knew no boundaries, which suggested that a larger, systemic problem was plaguing the police department, eating away at its credibility. Were people acting this way because they thought they could get away with it, because they’d watched others do the same before? Read more »

WATCH: #BlackLivesMatter Protesters Crashed Charles Ramsey’s Talk

Philadelphia Police Commissioner and soon-to-be-retiree Charles Ramsey had another run-in with #BlackLivesMatter protesters last night.

Only a few minutes into a talk he was giving at the National Constitution Center on the topic of “Policing in a Democratic society,” protestors intervened mid-sentence with their trademark “Mic check!”:

“I told you,” Philly’s top cop chuckled to moderator Jeffrey Rosen as soon as the chants began.

Unlike previous encounters with protesters from the movement, Ramsey stayed on stage, remained calm, and heard out the protesters — roughly a dozen of them. That was, until other cops (and Park Rangers) in the room thought enough was enough and escorted them out of the room.

The protestors mentioned several controversial cases of use of force, including the videotaped beating of Tyree Carroll in April and the shooting death of Brandon Tate-Brown in December.

“You have everybody’s attention. We can do one of two things: We can either take advantage of it and actually have the kind of dialogue that leads to real change, or we can squander it, just disrupt things,” Ramsey said in response to the protests.

But, he seemed weirdly appreciative of the interruption afterward.

“This was handled differently and we wound up with some good dialogue which is really what this event was about,” Ramsey said, 6 ABC reports.

In September, Ramsey dished out some constructive criticism on the Black Lives Matter Movement after they shut down his at Eastern State Penitentiary appearance.

“I want them to expand their focus, not to stop holding police accountable,” Ramsey said in a September phone interview. “I want them to address the disproportionate amount of violence in our communities.”

Follow @RobDiRienzo on Twitter.

Charles Ramsey’s Bottom Line: More Good Than Bad

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey poses with other police officers Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool)

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey poses with other police officers Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool)

So how do we assess Charles Ramsey’s Philadelphia career?

The police commissioner announced today that he is retiring at the end of the year, finishing out a tenure that began when then-Mayor-elect Michael Nutter nominated him for the job in November 2007 — coming out of retirement after an eight-year tenure as the top cop in Washington D.C.

Three themes emerge from Ramsey’s time in Philadelphia: Read more »

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