Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey gave extended commentary Thursday about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and community relations with police, saying poignantly “police have not always stood on the right side of justice.”

“We need to get away from the us against them mentality,” he said, “and acknowledge our own biases.”

Ramsey, the longtime police officer who’s been the top cop in Philly since 2007, addressed a crowd Thursday at TEDxPhiladelphia, a daylong multidisciplinary conference with the theme, “And Justice For All.” During the talk, Ramsey announced the department is working with the Constitution Center  in Philadelphia to better train police to protect citizens’ rights enshrined in the document. (Notably, Democratic mayoral candidate Jim Kenney campaigned on a promise to educate Philly police officers in this way.)

“The mindset of police needs to change, from a warrior to a guardian mentality,” he said, later adding, “do what you have to do as a police officer, but never do anything to take away a person’s dignity and self-respect.”

Ramsey’s talk is especially newsworthy thanks to his front-and-center role during the mayor’s race, mostly because of his stance on stop-and-frisk: He supports it.

When Ramsey arrived here in 2007 when Mayor Michael Nutter was elected, homicide rates were up and Nutter promised to emphasize stop-and-frisk in order to do something about the climbing rates. Ramsey, who is black, has said that he supports the measure when done correctly.

While the Democratic race toward the primary was raging, one mayoral candidate said he’d fire Ramsey because of his support of stop-and-frisk. The other said he’d ditch the practice, but keep Ramsey. The latter, a guy named Jim Kenney who will probably be the city’s next mayor, won by a landslide.

Ramsey refused to jump into the political circus a few weeks before the race as he became one of the most important topics of mayoral discussion. But now, he’s on record admitting that it hurts him to see videos every week on national TV depicting police officers acting in ways that change the collective dynamic between cops and the community.

The talk comes amid continuing national controversy over a slew of deaths caused by white police and inflicted upon black residents and, most recently, a video surfacing of a Texas cop holding down a teenage girl and pointing a gun at an unarmed black teen.

And it also comes during a week when Philadelphia has had to itself deal with the fallout of the police killing of a black man. City officials continue to take heat for how they handled the police shooting of Brandon Tate-Brown, a young black man who was shot after being pulled over during a routine traffic stop. The names of the officers involved in the December shooting were just released this week.

Ramsey didn’t specifically mention the Tate-Brown case. But he did say that he feels police can be more protective in their interactions with the community by remember they’re not only there to protect victims, but also to protect the rights of the accused.

“We don’t measure success by the absence of crime,” he said, “but by the presence of justice.”

We’ll update this post with a full video of the talk once it’s available.

Photo via @mikesisak

Anna Orso

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.