Friday, March 18, 2011

Why does Mayor Nutter want Commissioner Ramsey to stay?

Thanks to Chris Brennan for posting this interesting bit of news regarding Commissioner Charles Ramsey:
Mayor Nutter Says He Wants Ramsey To Stay

When Mike Nutter ran for Mayor as a reformer, I looked on with a very optimistic heart. It all changed for me a lot earlier than most of my fellow Philadelphians when Mayor Nutter announced his pick of Charles Ramsey as Police Commissioner. As someone who served proudly with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), my career has personally suffered at the hands of Ramsey's political hackery, so when I tell you all that I think that Ramsey should be ashamed to wear the uniform that so many true police officers have worn and sacrificed their lives in; it's partially based in a great deal of personal bitterness. When I got to the Metropolitan Police, I knew I had made the mistake of joining a department that lacked the police subculture that existed in my native New York (and use to exist here in Philadelphia). Years of corrupt leadership at the hands of Marion Barry had gutted MPD of "true blue" police officers, who joined the department because of a sincere desire to serve the community and fight crime. The legacy police officers (with families on the job), tireless crime fighters, and analytical thinkers had been all but replaced by local residents looking for a steady J-O-B. Among this decay, however, was a group of roughly 10-20% of MPD officers who worked hard and lived the job. When Ramsey got to DC, he made a lot of noise about being a "reformer", but instead went after the working 10-20% as their aggressive policing generated citizen complaints and negative press from the Washington CityPaper (as if they'd ever write a pro-police article anyway). Ramsey's legacy in DC were hundreds of unlawful terminations that ended up in reinstatements with back pay, mostly after he had left for Philly and at great cost to the District. These terminations had a greater effect than robbing manpower from the already understaffed 3,600 member department; they resulted in a morale level that forced officers to be less aggressive and therefore, less effective.

If Police Officers fear legal or administrative penalty from unwarranted citizen complaints (similar to the suit that was just settled between Marc Lamont Hill and the Philadelphia Police Department), then they tend to lay back from active street patrolling, stop and frisks, and traffic enforcement; choosing to just do the minimum policing of responding to radio runs as to avoid complaints and reprimands. Who suffers from this? First, the citizenry in high-crime areas suffer because the criminal element in the community quickly learns how to operate without police interdiction. Crime goes up but reports stay low. Guys like Ramsey can claim crime is down but people feel no safer in their communities.

Another group that suffers is the police officers in his command. When cops start seeing other cops losing their job and reputation over what can arguably be defined as doing their jobs...they tend to be more cautious over what can create complaints and use of force reports. In 2000, Ramsey required watch commanders (only one per district) to review all arrest reports, which anchored them to desks and created hours long waits for officers processing arrests. In 2002, Ramsey entered into a voluntary memorandum of understanding with the US Department of Justice, which allowed DOJ to track MPD's use of force. This created an "early warning tracking system" for police officers and classified certain tactical precautions, like readying a weapon as an actual use of force. When force was implied or used, officers were required to fill out an additional three page report which, justified or not, tracked officers based on their use of force (not the quality and quantity of their arrests). Many officers had scrutiny when up for civil service promotions based on unsubstantiated civilian complaints and/or use of force reports. So I ask you - if you're a police officer and you know that you're going to have a report filed for being tactically correct and having your weapon ready at dangerous calls, you may delay your decision to ready that weapon. When I think about the horrible run of officers killed in the first 18 months of the Ramsey administration, I shutter when thinking that any one of those heroic officers could have hesitated tactically based on fear of being terminated over a citizen complaint. If you read this and think I'm being irrational, compare Philly or DC's tactics to that of the highly trained Los Angeles Police, who pioneered the use of the Taser, putting multiple suspects on their knees with the weapon ready, and less-lethal shotgun munitions. Many have criticized the paramilitary demeanor of the LAPD, especially in the wake of Rodney King, but nobody can deny that an agency of 9800 officers patrolling a city of 3.9million over 498 square miles is far more efficient than the police operations of DC and Philadelphia.

As far as the above-linked story on, Ramsey was not wooed here from DC by Nutter, he was job hunting after Fenty was elected and he was shown the door. In his last year there, DC had 181 murders (in 61 square miles and 1/2 a million residents) and a lower morale among the rank and file than when Barry was mayor.

In a group known for ethical leadership - I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Ramsey's penchant for what's commonly referred to as "stat-fixing". Currently, both Ramsey and Nutter are taking credit for a decline in overall crime (which is heading back up this year). How closely are we watching this? First, Ramsey rezoned the police districts and did away with beats, creating Police Service Areas (PSAs). He did this in DC are well. As we all know, crime is measured on a per capita basis, so if he makes the districts massive and re-draws the lines, the numbers change. Furthermore, while I cannot attest to what he is doing in Philly, I can testify that my PD-251 police incident reports were often rejected and I was told to reclassify property crimes to misdemeanor thresholds and/or non-criminal incidents. Crime was still there - numbers weren't. That's policing in the Ramsey administration. This was a far cry from the use of COMSTAT in combination with aggressive policing that made Bill Bratton and Jack Maple famous in New York in the 1990s.

It's well known that Charles Ramsey has been trying to go back to Chicago since he was passed over by Superintendant Terry Hilliard in 1998 and that he was paying into his Chicago pension during his tenure in DC. If Rahm Emmanuel wants him...I say good riddance. It's time to stop politicizing our public safety agencies and bring back the era where a top cop was picked to lead a department based on their knowledge of the job and their ability to earn the respect of the rank & file - not their ability to spin facts and cater to the media/special interests.

If you ask this resident, that's the only ethical way to protect the citizens of our great city.

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