Philly police chief’s success depends on whether citizens feel safer in four years

     From left: former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and new Commissioner Richard Ross are shown in December 2015. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    From left: former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and new Commissioner Richard Ross are shown in December 2015. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, like me, has a strong fondness of former Commissioner Charles Ramsey. Recently, the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists had the opportunity to get to know the new commissioner.

    Before Charles Ramsey relocated to the Philadelphia area to become the city’s police commissioner under the Mayor Michael Nutter administration, I had known him as commander of the narcotics section and deputy chief of the police for the District of Columbia.

    Back then, in the late 1980s, the streets of our nation’s capital were inundated with the horror of the illegal drug market filtering its way to the inner cities of our country. Drug-related shootings were not only happening in Washington, D.C., but across the nation in large metropolitan areas and small town USA.

    While I was a graduate student, living and working in Columbia, Howard County, Maryland, Commander Ramsey appeared to have been in the media every day talking about the victims of gun violence.

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    Even though I was from where I was from, I too was in culture shock. I just couldn’t believe what I was experiencing from watching those television reports about the happenings in our nation’s capital.

    While Ramsey served as police commissioner of Philadelphia, I had opportunities to speak to him about my days in Columbia, Maryland. When Nutter appointed Ramsey commissioner, right away I knew he had made the right choice.

    Recently, the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists held its monthly meeting at CBSPhilly. The newly appointed Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross was invited to address the organization on various topics of interest concerning policing in the city. In his opening statement to the large group of primarily African-American journalists, Ross commended Commissioner Ramsey on his excellent way of leading the Philadelphia police force.

    The meeting was an on-the-record session with Ross who addressed questions about topics ranging from his upbringing as a native Philadelphian to the national spotlight directed at him in his first week on the job as commissioner.

    Because I have been in PABJ for such a long time, I felt compelled to ask my fellow members about their impressions of the meeting.

    “I thought that [Ross’] comments at the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists meeting were very refreshing and enlightening,” said Vincent Thompson of Thompson Communications. His company is a Philadelphia-based news and public relations company. “Ross’ first week as commissioner will be remembered for the attempted murder of police officer Jesse Hartnett by Edward Archer after the alleged gunman pledged allegiance to ISIS.”

    “While the Hartnett investigation continues, I think most Philadelphians will care about how Commissioner Ross deals with day-to-day, quality-of-life issues in order to make the city a safer place to work, play, and live in. To me, Commissioner Ross’ success or failure as police commissioner will depend on whether citizens — especially in the city’s minority communities — feel safer two, three or four years from now than they do today.”

    Cherri Gregg, KYW News Radio community affairs reporter and PABJ president, served as the event moderator. Every participant had the opportunity to ask Ross questions about policing in the city of Philadelphia.

    “How do you reconcile being a black man in law enforcement, considering the current relationship between black men and police?” Jay Scott Smith, “Morning Edition” producer/reporter at WHYY News, asked.

    “I have an understanding of the challenges that black men face with the police,” Ross recalled. “We should also be careful about assuming how black people feel about the police. You can’t assume that all neighborhoods feel like they’re over-policed, because not all of them do. You have people who are concerned about their quality of life, and we hear about that,” Ross replied.

    When asked to summarize her thoughts of the event, Germaine Edwards, Ph.D., PABJ member and former PABJ executive board officer, said, “Commissioner Ross gave me a better perspective on the wide range of issues the Philadelphia Police Department is asked to field on a regular basis. Realistically, the journalists asked Ross some hot-button issue questions. Nothing was off limits.”

    “It gave me an opportunity to get a sense of Commissioner Ross as a person,” Edwards noted.

    Wayne E. Williams is a writer in Camden, N.J., and has contributed to Speak Easy once before.

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