Ramsey: “We Are Not at War With the Communities We Serve”

Philly commissioner discusses recommendations of White House task force on policing.

Commissioner Charles Ramsey discusses the recommendations of the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Ramsey helped co-chair the task force.

Commissioner Charles Ramsey discusses the recommendations of the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Ramsey helped co-chair the task force.

Philly Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey met the local media Tuesday morning to discuss the recommendations of the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing that he helped co-chair, and what those recommendations mean for Philadelphia.

Some highlights:

• How to change the attitude of officers from “us-versus-them” to a “guardian mindset.”

“Training and education. One of the most important pillars, I think, when it comes to changing the culture and mindset in policing. Now having said that, it doesn’t mean every officer has the same mindset — we’re all individuals like everyone else.”

“For years, we’ve heard we’re fighting crime, there’s a war on crime, a war on drugs, a war on this and a war on that. We’re not at war with the communities that we serve. We have a job to do, we certainly have to arrest people who are committing crimes, but we also have a larger responsibility, and that’s to protect people, to protect the rights of individuals, and that’s the ‘guardian’ mindset. That’s a very important part of this report.”

• On whether there’s a gulf between the national recommendations and the performance of the Philly PD:

“No, I can’t think of anything that’s that really that big a gap. There are some things that obviously we aren’t doing, that we can begin to implement”

“We were asked to take a look at this from a national perspective, not just an individual city. We came up with recommendations we think are best for the profession.”

• On the recommendation that police-involved shootings be reviewed by independent, outside agencies:

“We spent a lot of time talking about that. Obviously that’s a topic of conversation across the country. The way the language in that particular recommendation reads — any use of force involving death, any officer-involved shooting resulting in injury or death, and any in-custody death. The investigation would be handled separately from the department — a multiagency task force is what’s recommended.”

“It doesn’t mean that agencies aren’t able to conduct an investigation, it doesn’t mean prosecutors aren’t able to review and come to a conclusion. But we do have to deal with perception, with the appearance of impropriety in some cases. In order to deal with that, having a separate review of these cases, we thought, was important.”

• On the downsides of transparency:

“We’ve got to avoid trial by the media, trial by the public, all those kinds of things. But we need people to have enough faith in the system where they’re willing to wait for the outcome. That’s a problem in Philly, not to say elsewhere.”

• On the report’s recommendation that officers be required to live where they’re employed. In Philadelphia, police officers can move out of town after five years on the job.

“I don’t know if it’s something we would try. … We can’t force upon people where to live, where to raise their family, but we can certainly encourage that. Now, what kind of incentives should we put in place to do that? I don’t know exactly — it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.”

• On change:

“Change isn’t easy. If it was, we’d have done it already. It’s going to take time — it may take generations before some of that is fully in place.”

“When we say ‘us versus them,’ how do we define ‘them?’ Everyone in these neighborhoods, even our most challenged neighborhoods, everyone’s not engaged in criminal activity. Everyone’s not engaged in doing something wrong. So who’s the them? When you start to take on that mentality, that’s when you start sliding down the very dangerous path and get in trouble. We need to be able to distinguish between those who are causing harm, and taking action against them, but not let that expand where we look at the entire community through that same lens, because nothing could be further from the truth.”

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