Why a former Philly police star is back to lead state anti-violence efforts

Charles Ramsey was known for for his tough-on-crime mantra.

Former PPD Commissioner Charles Ramsey at the 2016 DNC

Former PPD Commissioner Charles Ramsey at the 2016 DNC

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo
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Just 36 hours after Philly police were enmeshed in a standoff with a gunman in Nicetown, a former city police commissioner was chosen to examine gun violence statewide.

Charles Ramsey, Philly’s top cop for eight years during the Nutter administration, was appointed  special advisor to Governor Tom Wolf, charged with coordinating Pennsylvania’s gun reform efforts.

Wolf’s new program establishes a robust task force response — yes, another one. The two new state commissions promise to increase community engagement, review current background check legislation and implement strategies to reduce gun violence.

So who’s Ramsey? And why’d Wolf tap him to lead the change?

He’s got stamina

As commissioner, Ramsey led Philadelphia’s police force under Mayor Michael Nutter for eight years. The guy sticks around — his is the longest tenure for a Philly police commander since 1984.

Before that, he was police chief in D.C. Tasked with a tough job, overseeing regular city policing plus federal stuff, like terrorism threats and security for the presidential inauguration, he lasted just as long. Eight years is the longest term for a chief of the capitol cops in three decades.

He oversaw a big drop in homicides

Ramsey became known for his tough-on-crime mantra. Nutter ran on a campaign that emphasized unyielding policing, so the police commissioner followed his lead. When the mayor promised to declare crime emergencies in certain circumstances — which would allow for curfews, stop and frisk and increased police presence — Ramsey delivered.

During his stint in the city, Ramsey saw noticeable change. Under his policing, Philadelphia saw a 37 percent decline in the murder rate — from 391 homicides in 2007 to 248 in 2014. That latter was the lowest recorded since 1967.

Worth noting: the entire country also saw a reduction in crime during this period, not just Philly. The only city where the murder rate increased during that time is Memphis.

He’s got national exposure

Lately, Ramsey has been contributing on the national stage.

He was chosen by President Obama in 2014 to lead a task force on policing in the 21st century. Three years later, he became a regular CNN commentator.

On the side, he’s served as commissioner of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, a visiting fellow at Drexel’s urban innovation institute and a public safety consultant in Wilmington.

New department = more resources

Ramsey will head up a new department, established by a Wolf executive order: The Office of Gun Violence Prevention, within the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (he already oversees the overarching commission)

The office will address three kinds of gun violence: community gun violence, mass shootings and domestic gun violence and suicides.

Wolf’s new plan

Ramsey’s new special council will meet some time in the next 60 days, getting started developing:

  • A community engagement strategy
  • A review of current background check policies and best practices to keep weapons away from dangerous individuals
  • A dashboard for violence data to better share information statewide
  • Strategies to reduce violence moving forward

In tandem, Wolf established the Division of Violence Prevention, to work on reducing gun violence within the Department of Health.

In the wake of multiple shootings in Philadelphia the past few days, Wolf emphasized the importance of this new gig.

“The point is that man in Philadelphia had enough ammunition and weapons to hold dozens of Philadelphia police officers at bay for almost eight hours,” Wolf said during a Friday morning press conference. “We need to do something to stop gun violence across Pennsylvania.”

 

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