This Time, Commissioner Ramsey Deserves Some Blame

Philly's police commissioner is respected despite the troubles besetting his department. But he's got no one else to blame for his latest problem.

Matt Rourke/AP

Matt Rourke/AP

Most of the time, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey comes off smelling like a rose.

It’s extraordinary, if you think about it. Under his tenure the last few years, the police department has A) settled a lawsuit with the ACLU over its stop-and-frisk policy, B) been the subject of a Pulitzer-winning exposé on a drug unit’s corruption, C) seen a police captain caught on video slugging a woman and still keep his job, D) barely seen a week go without fresh allegations that his officers have stolen money or committed sexual assault or simply been racist, basketball-hoop-toppling jerks.

Yet by all accounts, Ramsey is pretty well-liked in Philadelphia. A 2010 Pew poll put his approval rating at 69 percent — against 11 percent disapproval — and there’s no reason to think that number has moved significantly either way. Why? My guess is that when it comes to the worst traits of the police department, most of us have decided it’s not his fault.

Stop-and-frisk? It’s actually supported by many residents, and in any case that’s a policy more identified with Mayor Nutter. The corrupt drug unit? At least Ramsey put those officers on administrative duties where they can do the least harm. The bad cops who get their jobs back? He’s at the mercy of worker-protection rules, and Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby makes a more convenient villain anyway. And hell, this town has been through both Frank Rizzo and the MOVE bombing; Ramsey’s version of the Philadelphia Police Department may actually look stable by comparison.

Still, maybe it’s time Commissioner Ramsey took some blame.

I say this because of news that emerged Thursday, that Ramsey has picked Chief Inspector Carl Holmes to be the new chief safety officer of the Philadelphia school district.

Sound familiar? That’s because Holmes made news a few years back, when he was demoted to captain after being accused of sexually assaulting an aide. Holmes has also been the subject of at least four physical abuse lawsuits during his career, the Daily News reported.

Long story short: The guy’s far from being seen as a model cop. That has parents in the school district perturbed. And in this case, well … it’s all on Ramsey. Who seems to be irritated that his judgment on the matter would be questioned by the public.

“This is an assignment that I made,” he told the Daily News. “I don’t understand what the issue is, or why anybody is concerned about it.”

Perhaps it’s too much at this point to hope that Philadelphia officers arrive in high-profile jobs without a track record of lawsuits and abuse allegations. Still, it’s the case that parents everywhere are terribly afraid that their child will be harmed at school — and in the case of Philadelphia, they may have more-than-adequate reason for worry. Which means that parents want and need to be assured that they’re leaving their children in the hands of somebody who would never compromise their safety for an instant.

The accusations in Holmes’s past leave some doubt on that front.

Let’s grant, for the sake of argument,that every accusation against Holmes is unfounded. It remains the case that being a police officer is a privilege, not a right, and that being entrusted with the case of children generally requires trustworthiness. There’s few among us who would entrust our child to the care of a man accused of sexually assaulting one of his co-workers, no matter how unproven the charges.

Fair? Maybe not entirely. But who said parents will be fair in the pursuit of protecting their children from harm? Ramsey understands this, or should, yet greets inquiries on the matter petulance: “Listen, he had an issue, and I dealt with it. He worked his way back,” Ramsey said. “It had nothing to do with juveniles at all, so one should have no bearing on the other.”

But it does, and Ramsey — who has earned the trust of the community, in part, by promoting community policing — should understand that more than most people. He doesn’t, apparently.

That’s nobody else’s fault but his. This time, Commissioner Ramsey gets all the blame.