Richard Ross is now officially Philadelphia’s new top cop.
During a swearing-in ceremony at his alma mater Central High School, Ross said on Tuesday he plans to continue the work of his predecessor, Charles Ramsey, in moving reforms through the department amid a “challenging time for law enforcement.”
Ross has been managing the Philadelphia Police Department’s 6,600 officers’ day-to-day operations since 2008 as first deputy commissioner, so he has a good sense of what awaits — though it will be a long road to significantly improve the fourth-largest police department in the country.
“We gotta deal with reform. It’s just a reality,” said Ross, talking to reporters after the ceremony. “I’d be remiss, despite my love and support for this department, if I didn’t acknowledge some issues that we have to contend with.”
Many policy shifts are already in motion, including dozens of recommendations from the U.S. Department of Justice, such as having state police lead investigations into officer-involved shootings and requiring that police disclose the identifyof an officer involved with a shooting three days after an incident. But some planned changes, including those two, are causing the Fraternal Order of Police to put up a fight.
Ross suggested to reporters that he’s of two minds about the city’s police union. He acknowledged that in the face of a “tough collective bargaining agreement,” change isn¹t always easy. At the same time, Ross said, he still doesn’t see the union’s objections as insurmountable.
“They have a job to do, and they’re doing what they think they need to do. We have a job to do,” Ross said. “Hopefully we can come to a meeting of the minds on all of these things. Still a lot of work to do on that stuff.”
Ross, 51, a Philadelphia native who holds a master’s degree in criminal justice, replaces Charles Ramsey, a well-liked leader who came out of retirement to head the city’s police force for eight years.
During that time, he drove the city through historic drops in homicide rates and asked federal officials to audit the city’s police practices after a jump in the number of officer-involved shootings. In addition, Ramsey co-chaired President Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing in the aftermath of the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island.
During his speech, Ross, the oldest of three boys, recounted a time when he was about 9 and someone broke into his home.
He woke up to a neighbor’s loud scream: “Wake up! Somebody’s in your house.”
Then he remembers walking outside and standing near his robe-clad dad.
“I instantly see seven or eight other fathers,” Ross said. “They all had their right hand in their robe pocket, and I did the same thing. Because I was their backup.”
“The biggest takeaway from that story,” Ross said, “is that those men didn’t look out the window and say, ‘Wow I wonder what happened at the Ross household,’ but they clearly sent a message to whoever had done this.
“It speaks volumes of what you can do when you work together.”
It’s a theme he hopes to advance through beefed-up community policing, something Ramsey often promoted.
Ross wants the department to show a friendlier face and build stronger, less hostile ties with troubled communities. He said that’s one of his top priorities.
“We have to make this city safer for everyone,” Ross said. “Everybody is a stakeholder, but we have to deal with reform.”