Philly has its first woman police commissioner

Christine M. Coulter has been named “acting police commissioner” of the Philadelphia Police Department while the city seeks a replacement for Richard Ross, who resigned abruptly on Tuesday. 

Coulter joined Mayor Jim Kenney at a press conference Wednesday for media questions surrounding Ross’ resignation over mishandled sexual harassment and gender and racial discrimination allegations within the department. 

“I have always been honored, as a woman and a police officer, to serve this city,” Coulter said, when asked about being the first woman in the role. “I would love to continue serving the city. It is all I can tell you right now.”

When asked why he chose Coulter for the acting position, Kenney said in a statement, “Deputy Coulter is an experienced police commander with nearly 30 years of law enforcement service. She has diverse experience in patrol operations, narcotics intelligence and investigations. I have full faith in her ability to lead the Department during this time of transition.”

Coulter is a three-star deputy and most recently served as a deputy commissioner of Organizational Services, a position she accepted in 2014 in which “she is responsible for professional support services that enable officers and commanders in the field to have the training, equipment, and support personnel that is needed to prevent, combat, and solve crime in Philadelphia,” according to a press release. “She also oversees development of the Department’s use of technology as a tool in community-engaged policing and smart policing.”

During Wednesday’s press conference, Coulter said her No. 1 priority will be combating violence in Philly and working on building relationships with the community and Philly’s partners.

“I will take that hard look, make sure that the right folks are in the right place and that we’re structurally organized, to be the most effective department that we can be,” she said

Although the mayor can choose someone else for the open police commissioner position, Inquirer.com reported that Coulter’s promotion is historic: The only other woman who came close to the role was Patricia Giorgio-Fox, who in 2002 became the first woman to be named deputy commissioner.

Kenney said Wednesday that a wide net will be cast in the search for a new police commissioner. “We’re looking broadly local and national, internal and external,” he said.

He added, “We’re seeking a commissioner who can garner the respect of the rank and file and with the community, just as Richard Ross did. Someone who is committed to building a stronger department, bolstering morale, and addressing workplace challenges that have existed within law enforcement for some time.”

When asked if she would apply for the open role, Coulter declined to comment.

Kenney said Wednesday he had attempted to delay Ross’ resignation, but Ross insisted on Tuesday. Ross’ resignation follows what Kenney initially described as “new allegations of sexual harassment as well as gender and racial discrimination among the rank and file.” He clarified that “those allegations do not accuse Commissioner Ross of harassment.”

In a recent lawsuit obtained by CBS 3, Ross is named as a defendant by two woman police officers, who claim he ignored sexual harassment and discrimination complaints as their superior. One plaintiff claims Ross told her it was in part because she ended a two-year affair with him in 2011.

Taking questions from reporters outside police headquarters Wednesday, Ross said he has “never sought retribution” and that he left the post by choice.

Ross departs after 30 years with the force. His later months were marked by a rise in gun violence and homicides in Philadelphia. Last week, he oversaw a standoff at a residence in North Philly where which six officers were shot, as well as the successful negotiation of the suspect’s surrender —actions for which Kenney named him “the best police commissioner in America.”

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