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This was supposed to be an election about public education.
And yet the Philadelphia mayor’s race has suddenly veered into the topic of policing. You’ve heard every candidate declare intentions about an appointed position, in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing demonstrations in Baltimore and Philly. So what will the next mayor do with Commissioner Charles Ramsey?
Candidate Anthony Williams said he would remove Ramsey from his position if he is elected mayor of Philadelphia because he wants to end stop and frisk. When Mayor Michael Nutter basically said Williams is crazy and Ramsey is great, Williams held a press conference reiterating what he said earlier.
What exactly is Ramsey known for? How has stop and frisk worked over the last few years? And how closely is Ramsey tied to the emphasis on stop and frisk in Philadelphia? In a nutshell below: How we got here.
What did Ramsey do before Philadelphia?
Ramsey is a longtime police officer who started in the Chicago police force in the late 1960s. After about three decades there, he was hired as police chief in Washington D.C. in 1998 and served as the top officer in charge until 2006. Oddly enough, the guy who hired him there was a mayor by the name of Anthony Williams.
How’d he do in Washington?
Pretty well by most standards. During Ramsey’s tenure, murders in Washington fell from 301 the year before he took over to 169 the year he left. He brought D.C. into the 21st century, introducing computers and new police cruisers among many other things.
Ramsey did all this at one of the toughest policing jobs in the country. In Washington, the chief not only tends to the type of crime you’d see in Philly or any other big city but federal stuff, like terrorism threats and security for the presidential inauguration and other major government events.
Pretty much only one major controversy blemished Ramsey’s tenure.
What was that?
His department arrested more than 600 people during a protest on anti-globalization and U.S. foreign policy in 2002 and, according to those arrested, failed to process them quickly. Some of those arrested were just bystanders who weren’t even there to participate. None of the people arrested were ever charged with a crime. This mishap cost Washington upwards of $20 million because of lawsuits.
Protests here, particularly in the last several months, have been peaceful and not over-policed. Few people have been arrested, and police officers and protesters have largely been respectful of each other.
How did a Washington/Chicago guy get this job?
Nutter considered more than a dozen candidates and went with Ramsey. Ramsey was well-respected on a national level and had also issued crime emergencies, allowing more officers into the streets for certain circumstances. Crime emergencies were a big part of Nutter’s platform. Another big part was stop and frisk.
Stop and frisk, huh?
Yep. When Nutter was running for mayor in 2007, Philadelphia’s murder rate was climbing, reaching 391 homicides that year. Nutter ran on two police-related promises: He would declare crime emergencies, allowing for curfews, increased police presence and other strategies for certain neighborhoods, and he would emphasize stop and frisk tactics, which call for an officer to stop, question and search people for weapons there is reasonable suspicion.
And Ramsey was a fan of stop and frisk?
Mostly. As mayor, Nutter has been Ramsey’s boss. He gets to call the shots, and Ramsey reports to him. When Ramsey took the job, he said he supported stop and frisk when done right and not in a way that violated people’s rights.
Had Philadelphia been doing stop and frisk before?
Yes, but stop and frisk was not carried out to nearly as large of an extent. In 2005, stop and frisk was used about 100,000 times, compared to about 250,000 times in 2009. The outgoing police commissioner under John Street, Sylvester Johnson, said in 2007 he wouldn’t increase stop and frisk and argued such tactics would erode trust between citizens and police.
Has stop and frisk worked?
Not really. The murder and crime rates have gone down tremendously under Nutter and Ramsey but there doesn’t appear to be a correlation between stop and frisk and the drop in crime. City data collected by the ACLU for a lawsuit against the city in 2010, showed that only about 8 percent of stop and frisks led to an actual arrest.
Wait, the ACLU got involved?
Back in 2010, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a civil suit against Philadelphia, alleging stop and frisk tactics were infringing upon the rights of minorities. The city settled in 2011, agreeing to let a court-appointed monitor oversee the police department’s use of stop and frisk and dole out a little over $100,000 to seven victims.
The ACLU continues to monitor police stops of pedestrians in Philadelphia. For the first two quarters of 2014, it concluded that 39 percent of the stop and frisks conducted by police were made without reasonable suspicion. It also found that 89 percent of the people police conducted stop and frisks on were minorities.
Has Ramsey been successful?
For a lot of reasons, yes. Earlier this year, Nutter released a report basically bragging about how awesome his tenure has been. Part of it was devoted to Ramsey’s work. The year before Ramsey started, in 2007, 391 people were murdered in Philadelphia. Last year, 248 people were murdered. Violent crime has also fallen by about 17 percent since 2007.
In reducing the violent crime and murder rate, though, Philadelphia police fired at suspects more than 390 times from 2007 to 2014, according to a Ramsey-commissioned Department of Justice report on lethal force by Philly cops. The report found problems with the department’s use of training for lethal force and the way they investigated shootings by cops.
Ramsey has also been recognized at the national level. President Barack Obama appointed him to chair his taskforce on 21st century policing, a response to the crises in Ferguson and beyond. The move was criticized in certain circles because of the way Ramsey dealt with demonstrators in 2002 in Washington.
How did Ramsey get thrust into the spotlight this last week?
Pretty much because of Williams. Before then, all the mayoral candidates except Milton Street had said they respected Ramsey and would keep him on if elected. A few months ago, Williams even said Ramsey had been an effective commissioner and would give him the choice about whether to stay on.
But what about stop and frisk. Would they keep it?
Nope. All six have said they would end the practice of stop and frisk. No matter who gets elected, stop and frisk should end with the Nutter regime.
Is it normal to be around for two different mayors?
In Philadelphia, it’s not normal to even be around for the full tenure of one mayor. Wilson Goode had three different police commissioners, Ed Rendell had two and Street had two.
But Ramsey is a long tenure kind of guy. In Washington, he lasted for eight years, the longest tenure for a police chief in D.C. in 30 years.