Philadelphia’s police force of some 6,500 officers will soon be run by the department’s second-in-command, Richard Ross, Mayor-elect Jim Kenney announced Wednesday.
Ross, a 26-year department veteran, has earned the respect of his soon-to-be predecessor, Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who presided over the department as the city experienced a nearly 30 percent decline in violent crime compared with 2006, when violence in the city hit a 50-year peak.
During that time, Ramsey became among the most popular public officials in Philadelphia. Ramsey also became a mentor to Ross.
“I can’t say enough about him and what he’s done for me and my career, and I think it’s important to underscore that this is more about passing the baton,” Ross said at a Wednesday news conference.
Many political observers placed Ross on a short list of likely police commissioner replacements. He’s a Philly native and has served as deputy under Ramsey’s watch and during Sylvester Johnson’s term as commissioner, which ended in 2008.
When Ramsey announced his retirement last month at City Hall, he gave Ross a declaration of faith.
“I couldn’t agree more that he is capable of running this department,” Ramsey said. “I’ve been around a lot of police leaders. There’s nobody out there in the country any better than who we have serving as first deputy. Period.”
One important distinction, though, is that Ramsey came in as an outsider — a Chicago native who led that city’s police force before overseeing Washington, D.C.’s department. Analysts say that enhanced his ability to put up a fight with the city’s powerful police union over issues including officer firings and publicly naming officers who fire their weapons.
On Wednesday, Ross veered from most particulars, but did say that new officers will be required to walk a beat before they patrol in cars, something Ramsey pushed. In addition, the department will expand its body-worn camera program, Ross said, which Philly experimented with under Ramsey, though it’s still a topic of debate among law enforcement experts.
“The officers who wear them are excited about them,” Ross said. “They think a lot of good things come from that, to include reducing the temperature is certain encounters.”
Kenney ran with the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police. FOP President John McNesby said he’s thrilled the mayor-elect chose from within the department, but said there was no political deal.
“We supported Jim Kenney because he’s his own man, he’s true to himself. He’s a supporter of the police, the firefighters, the working person in the row home,” McNesby said. “So, that’s why we supported Jim Kenney, not to get some special favors or things like that.”
Unsurprisingly, Kenney agreed.
“It was not a requirement for the endorsement, I was happy to be endorsed by any organization who wanted to endorse me,” he said.
McNesby added that Ross’ selection is encouraging to rank-and-file officers.
“It sends a message to those commanders that are out there. To invest in the police department, who’ve taken time to study, move up through the ranks,” McNesby said. “If you can find a good leader in 200 commanders in the Philadelphia Police Department, then there’s a problem.”
“I will build on what he’s done,” Ross said of Ramsey. “We’re going to do everything possible to continue with the success we’ve had with driving down crime.”
Ross will take over from Ramsey on Jan 7.