New Philly police commissioner Kevin Bethel promises ‘data-driven’ solutions to improve public safety

Bethel is currently head of security for the school district and formerly served as the city's deputy police commissioner.

Kevin Bethel speaks during a news conference

Then Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel speaks during a news conference, Nov. 4, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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A 29-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police force will be the department’s next commissioner.

Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker officially named Kevin Bethel as her pick to be Philadelphia’s next police commissioner during a news conference Wednesday morning. She said her decision wasn’t made quickly, but something she started working on “immediately” after she won the May primary.

“We began collecting recommendations for potential commissioners from a litany of different stakeholders and people,” Parker said. “We actually started having informal meetings after spending a month and a half collecting names.”

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Parker interviewed Bethel in July and said he was prepared, offering “annotations and additions” to her public safety plans. Parker said that impressed her, but she wanted to completely vet all the candidates. She called in a host of people, including former city Police Commissioners Charles Ramsey and Richard Ross.

Ramsey said Bethel “caught his attention” when he worked in the field as a cop, which resulted in Bethel being promoted to captain and then deputy commissioner. He said Bethel worked longer hours than he did, always looking at the numbers, and even focusing on how to lower the number of children in custody through diversion programs.

“I am honored to be working in this administration,” Bethel said.

He called Ramsey a mentor who made him “who he is today.” Bethel also honored interim commissioner John Stanford, who will continue to lead the force until Bethel takes over in January. Bethel said he hopes that Stanford will stay on with the department calling him an “absolutely good man.”

“We have a job to do as part of policing, we have to enforce the law,” Bethel said, adding that the Parker administration will work collectively in an intergovernmental approach to make the city safer. “I am a data-driven individual. Data tells us the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ to put people.”

Bethel said he will focus efforts in areas where the crisis is at its worst, including the Kensington corridor. “The community has told us what we want, our responsibility has to come from the community and it’s our duty to respond,” he said. “The challenges our city faces are significant but they are solvable.”

Parker said the police commissioner will develop a comprehensive safety plan for the city of Philadelphia and will not take any tool off the table, including a possible return of “constitutional stop and frisk.”

Roosevelt Poplar is the new leader of the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents police officers in the city. Poplar said he is ready to work with the new administration and was “overwhelmed with joy” with Parker’s pick.

“Talking to the mayor has been so enlightening for my membership,” Poplar said. “I am going to do everything I can to help her fulfill her vision.”

Poplar said he knows Bethel from his time on the force, but said he will still work to “protect his members.” The FOP leader said he wants to be able to “agree to disagree with respect” when labor issues arise with the new administration.

Bethel will replace interim commissioner John Stanford, who was appointed by Mayor Jim Kenney in September following the resignation of Danielle Outlaw. Outlaw stepped down earlier that month to take on a new role as deputy chief security officer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

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At the time, Parker issued a statement reflecting on Outlaw’s tenure in the city and challenges she faced since becoming commissioner in 2020, including the COVID-19 pandemic and protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd.

Parker said that no police commissioner “has ever dealt with the tornado of black swan events” that Outlaw faced during her tenure. “While there will be many Monday morning quarterbacks second-guessing her performance and decision-making, I have nothing but a great deal of respect and admiration for the job that she has done for our city,” Parker said.

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