Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey Announces Retirement

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has been in charge of Philadelphia cops since the start of Mayor Michael Nutter's term. He'll leave with him, too.

Charles Ramsey police commissioner announces retirement

Charles Ramsey announces his retirement at City Hall on Tuesday, October 14th. (Photo: Dan McQuade)

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey will retire at the end of Mayor Michael Nutter‘s term in January, he announced today at City Hall. His last day is January 7th, eight years after he was sworn in as police chief.

“I want to thank all the citizens of Philadelphia, all the community organizations that are out there every day, and all the officers in the Philadelphia Police Department,” Ramsey said. “I just want to thank everyone for giving me the opportunity to serve in this great city.”

Ramsey, who was born in 1950, has been police commissioner since taking over for Sylvester Johnson at the start of Nutter’s term in January 2008. He left retirement to take the job. Under his watch, killings by Philadelphia Police plunged, with only one this year. Yet the department was still criticized in a scathing report issued by the Department of Justice earlier this year. Ramsey had asked for the report.

“We have, in my opinion, come in compliance with a number of the recommendations,” Ramsey said. “I’m confident we’ll be in full compliance. We’ll come out as a better department, as a stronger department.”

The police killing of Brandon Tate-Brown last year remains controversial — there were protests just yesterday — with conflicting stories told by police and witnesses. (He’s been protested constantly, including at Eastern State Penitentiary.)

The Philadelphia Police Department was sued by the ACLU over filming of officers, while the Philadelphia police force has been sued and criticized over its use of stop-and-frisk. He has also been sued by a twice-fired cop alleging civil rights violations and sued by acquitted narc cops for defamation.

He was police chief from 1998 to 2006 in Washington, D.C., where crime rates dropped 40 percent during his tenure. Before D.C., he was a police officer in Chicago for three decades. When he became Philadelphia’s police commissioner in 2008, he almost immediately delivered a report with new approaches to crimefighting.

“Our plans were met in true Philadelphia style, with skepticism,” Mayor Nutter said at today’s announcement. “Residents wondered, ‘What would be different this time?’ The difference, of course, was Charles Ramsey.”

Nutter expounded on Ramsey’s accomplishments as police commissioner. “When I asked him to come, the reason was because he had a very strong record in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, his hometown,” Nutter said at today’s announcement. “And I knew he would support my vision for the city. The homicide rate in 2007 was 391 — the number against which we judge the number of our own performance in the last eight years … the numbers, as they say, do speak for themselves. The homicide totals compared to seven years ago this time are down 33 percent.”

Ramsey said his retirement came not because he’s burnt out. “I did come out of retirement to work for Mayor Nutter,” Ramsey said. “He’s leaving … and I’m honored to leave with him. It’s time. I’ve been at this for a long time. I’m not tired, I’m not burnt out. In fact, I’m still in my prime! There’s still a lot I can do in the era of policing. And I think I can have a great impact nationally on the issues that we’re facing today.”

Ramsey recently led President Barack Obama‘s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which released recommendations in March. He received mixed reviews when he was chosen for the position, most notably due to a mass arrest of demonstrators in 2002. Ramsey later apologized.

“My whole thought process now revolves around protecting people’s constitutional rights,” Ramsey told the Washington Post. Once the Occupy Philly protests started, he began reading the First Amendment at roll call. He recently talked about the Black Lives Matter movement in a barbershop.

Ramsey is one of a few police commissioners in Philadelphia to have been chosen from outside the department. Kevin M. Tucker, the first since the 1920s, was sworn in after the MOVE bombing. John Timoney became police commissioner in 1998, after previously serving in New York City. Ramsey hinted the next commissioner could be an inside pick: “There’s a lot of talent inside our department, if that’s what they choose to do.” He singled out deputy commissioner Richard Ross, a longtime veteran of the police force and deputy commissioner. “There’s nobody out there any better,” he said. Ross is considered the frontrunner.

“Philadelphia is, was, and will be very, very lucky to benefit from the talent and dedication of Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey,” Nutter said. “He’s recognized nationally and internationally among his peers.” The mayor then became emotional at the end of his speech about Ramsey, as he addressed him: “Thank you for saying yes. Thank you for coming to Philadelphia. Thank you for making my city a safer city. Children and adults of our city owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude.… you’ve been a supporter, friend and advisor.”

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