Philly’s top cop tapped to lead Obama task force

Charles Mostoller/Metro file photo

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey was tapped Monday to co-chair the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

“I was surprised and deeply honored that the President would consider me for such an important assignment,” Ramsey said. “This is a very, very critical time in our country and to be chosen to co-chair such an important task force is quite an honor.”

President Barack Obama is asking Ramsey and his co-chair, George Mason University professor Laurie Robinson, to return recommendations in 90 days on how to build trust between police and communities across the nation.

“One thing that has become very apparent is there is an incredible amount of tension that continues between police and some communities, primarily communities of color, communities that are hard-hit by crime and disorder,” Ramsey said. “Even though we’ve engaged in community policing over the last 20 years or so, obviously there are communities that have been left behind and the treatment they have received is not fair and impartial.”

Ramsey’s appointment received positive reactions from some those who have have criticized the conduct of his department in the past.

“Whether Mr. Ramsey is the right choice can be debated all day. The Philadelphia Police Department is by no means the gold standard,” said activist and writer Christopher “Flood the Drummer” Norris, who has written on the experiences of black Philadelphians interacting with policeand oversight of the PPD.”When choosing among the lesser evils, I think President Obama went with the person who has the most experience in running large police departments.”

Ramsey has previously served as police commissioner in Washington D.C. and Chicago.

But Norris said he thinks Obama’s proposal for a $263 million package to retrain and equip police nationwide with body cameras should be passed by Congress as soon as possible.

“It’s the right step for the federal government to step in and provide capital for the implementation of police body cameras,” he said. “Ramsey’s mind, his brain, his leadership shouldn’t be diminished just because Philly has corrupt cops walking on the beat.”

Philly has had its problems — six police officers are currently facing federal corruption charges filed in August for allegedly robbing, extorting and kidnapping drug dealers.

But under Ramsey, the department has seen various reforms. On Monday, 31 police officers in the 22nd district volunteered to pilot a body camera program for six months to test the technology.

“Wearing cameras is the best conceivable thing that can happen,” said Lewis Small, an attorney who represented teenager Darrin Manning, who claimed a police officer ruptured his testicle in January. That officer is back on street duty after being cleared of wrongdoing, police confirmed.

“It’s a check on rogue cops. It also protects them from unfair complaints,” Small said.

While acknowledging Philadelphia has its problems, Ramsey was optimistic about the task force.

“There’s never a perfect time, and no one is ever going to have a perfect strategy or be in a position where they are without any criticism at all. We have to always work through it and honestly move toward trying to get better,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that we have everything solved in Philadelphia, but we have made progress. We have a long way to go, and so does everyone else, but collectively we can get there.”

Additional reporting by Tommy Rowan

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