Don’t go, Charles, don’t go.
Word is that Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey might be headed to Chicago to become top cop there.
We want to keep this guy, and even in a moment of embarrassment for his department last week, he showed why.
Seems Philly police failed to calibrate a Breathalyzer machine correctly, meaning more than a thousand drunken-driving convictions could be kaput.
Ramsey’s statement on that: “We screwed up, plain and simple.”
No weak alibis. No tortured rhetoric. No blaming the media. Just candor. We. Screwed. Up.
That should be standard operating procedure. But too often it isn’t. So, major props to Ramsey.
They are not easy, these moments when you look down at your desk, and next to the mementos and photos of the kids, you see one big fat buck, stopped right there. Outside, all is hue and cry, with calls for someone’s head.
I’ve been on both sides of that situation. As a card-carrying pundit, I’ve called for heads to roll. As a manager, I’ve been also been on the embarrassing end of a few very public screwups. Two, from my days as editorial page editor of the Inquirer, stick with me.
Each involved horrific mistakes that got into print, one an internal gag that got published due to a computer glitch, the other a murder report that turned out to be a hoax. I won’t go into chilling detail on either; you can still read about them on Google. That’s one of the joys of the digital age; now your worst moments are frozen forever for review in the global memory bank.
In each case, the result was TV reporters on the sidewalk outside my office. Ironies abounded. In one case, the person most responsible for the gaffe had, that very same day, received a big award for work he’d done.
That’s a point to underline: While some people really do deserve the ax, sometimes mistakes that cause a sensation get made by people whose full body of work is impressive. They don’t deserve firing. Media bloodlust in the name of “accountability” often misses that distinction.
But, because of that, a lot of so-called leaders, seeking to avoid getting chewed up by the machine, lapse into scapegoating.
The right thing to do is to stand up, like Ramsey, and say, “Hey, WE screwed up.” You can survive, sometimes. In those two instances, I did. But even it you end up taking the hit, you’ve done what true leadership demands.