5 things to know about Danielle Outlaw, Philly’s new police commissioner

She’ll be the first woman of color to lead the scandal-plagued PPD.

Then-Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw in August 2019

Then-Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw in August 2019

AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer

Philadelphia is bringing in an outsider to take the reins of its police department.

After months of hushed deliberations, Mayor Jim Kenney announced his appointment of Danielle Outlaw, most recently police chief in Portland, Ore., to take over the city’s 6,500-member police force.

Outlaw was selected from more than 30 candidates who were considered, Kenney said in a statement. The hire comes four months after the abrupt resignation of former Commissioner Richard Ross, a department veteran appointed by Kenney in 2016. Ross stepped down in August after a federal lawsuit accused him of having an affair with a subordinate and failing to act when she complained about sexual harassment by another officer. Ross has denied the allegations.

The new hire also follows a year beset by scandals for the department, including sexual assault allegations against police brass and several officers being fired over their offensive Facebook posts. In a statement, Kenney promised Outlaw would “enact reforms with urgency.”

Outlaw, 44, has led the much smaller West Coast police force since 2017. She’ll replace interim Philly Police Commissioner Christine Coulter on Feb. 10.

“I will work relentlessly to reduce crime in Philadelphia — particularly the insidious gun violence that plagues too many communities,” Outlaw said in a statement sent out by the city on Monday. “And I will do so in a way that ensures all people are treated equitably regardless of their gender identity, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.”

The Kenney administration’s hiring process lasted months — and occurred largely in the shadows. As recently as last week, even key players in Philly’s criminal justice system said they were unaware of the pick. The process stood in stark contrast to other cities that made such high-profile hirings more transparent to the public.

Here’s what we know so far about Outlaw.

She’ll be the first black woman commissioner

Outlaw will be the city’s first Black woman police commissioner. She’s also the second-ever woman to take the spot, following interim Commissioner Coulter.

Having a woman in a position of power at the helm has the potential to change what recent lawsuits allege is a culture of pervasive sexual harassment among Philly police.

At least nine women officers have sued the PPD over sexual harassment or discrimination since the start of 2018 — that’s roughly one lawsuit every other month. And over the past decade, the city has settled at least three dozen federal lawsuits by women officers who allegedly suffered some form of sexual, racial or gender-based misconduct on the job. In a release, Kenney cited the “horrid instances of sexual assault on fellow officers” as a concern in his search for the new chief.

Earlier this year, former PPD Officer Christa Hayburn told Billy Penn and WHYY she thinks sexism is baked into all parts of the department.

“It’s been infused since the day the department was founded,” Hayburn said. “Toxic masculinity. Power … It’s a man’s job, it’s generational.”

She brings two decades of experience on the West Coast

Before leading the Portland police force, made up of approximately 870 officers, Outlaw moved through the ranks as a 20-year officer in her hometown of Oakland, Calif.

She began as an Oakland patrol officer in the late 1990s. During her tenure there, Outlaw served as a department public affairs officer, an internal affairs investigator and eventually head of police internal affairs. In that post, she managed civilian use of force complaints against officers.

Outlaw served as a lieutenant in the department in 2011 and interim deputy police chief in 2013. According to her LinkedIn, Outlaw was the deputy chief when Oakland was rocked by a 2016 police department sexual exploitation scandal. The department’s reputation took a hard hit, but Outlaw emerged unscathed.

In her management roles within the department, Outlaw was charged with implementing court-mandated reforms like analyzing use-of-force data to help retrain officers on implicit racial bias.

She was appointed Portland police chief in 2017, becoming the first Black woman and third woman overall to hold the position in the force’s history.

She’s an outsider — the fourth ever to lead the PPD

Outlaw will become the fourth non-PPD veteran to serve as commissioner in modern history.

In the past, outside chiefs have taken on the charge of cracking down on misconduct within the department, but there have been relatively few of them.

In 2016, Ross stepped into the role as a department insider. He’s a Philly lifer and a three-decade officer who had climbed the ranks of the force. His predecessor, former D.C. commissioner Charles Ramsey, was appointed in 2008 by then-Mayor Michael Nutter.

Prior to Ramsey, there were only two others from outside the department’s ranks: John Timoney, a one-time NYPD cop who took the reins in Philly from 1998 to 2002, and Kevin Tucker, a former Secret Service agent brought in after the 1985 MOVE bombing.

Notably, all three previous outside commissioners were credited in some form with tackling malfeasance within the department. Both Ramsey and Timoney had reputations for firing bad apple officers and challenging the police union, while Tucker earned accolades for ferreting out corruption and modernizing many of the department’s operations.

Both Tucker and Ramsey also bemoaned the limitations of their reforms — which could pose a similar challenge for Outlaw.

Philly’s hiring process was cloaked in secrecy

The city was unusually tight-lipped about the hiring process. The city contracted with the Police Executive Research Forum, a national policy nonprofit, to help search and vet candidates. Of the 30 people considered for the job, 18 of them were within the department, according to the mayor’s office.

Kenney had put an end-of-year deadline on announcing the hire, and yet even as the deadline approached, few insiders were aware of his final choice.

Other cities have strived for more transparency and public debate in the selection process. Two years ago, Seattle undertook an eight-month search for its new commissioner, which allowed for more debate. Prior to Outlaw’s announcement, reform advocates in Philly said they wanted more input on Kenney’s finalists.

Nearly 4,000 people weighed in on the search via a survey available online and at City Hall, according to the mayor’s office.

Outlaw says modern policing and community trust are key

In a statement issued by Kenney’s office, Outlaw said she was privileged to accept the new role, which she will assume in February.

She also hinted at some of her focuses within the department — modern, data-driven policing, reducing gun violence and restoring community trust within the scandal-rocked department.

In Outlaw’s own words:

“While I am new to Philadelphia, I am not new to the challenges of big-city, 21st century policing, I encountered and dealt with the issues of employee health and wellness, equity, contemporary training, crime, fair and just prosecution, community trust, homelessness, substance abuse, police accountability, and innovation and technology — just to name a few — as I worked various assignments and rose through the ranks in Oakland, California. And I directly addressed these issues while leading the police force in Portland, Oregon.

“Modern policing is data-driven, but the paramount factor is not so easily quantified: trust — the trust residents have that their police force will keep them safe and treat them with respect. I am convinced that trust can be restored, here and across the nation. I am convinced community-police relations can be rebuilt and fortified through dialogue, transparency, and accountability.

“It will be a privilege to serve as Philadelphia Police Commissioner and to serve all who live and work in this great city. I will work relentlessly to reduce crime in Philadelphia — particularly the insidious gun violence that plagues too many communities. And I will do so in a way that ensures all people are treated equitably regardless of their gender identity, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. I am convinced there can be humanity in authority; they are not mutually exclusive. That was true in Oakland and in Portland, and I know it is true here in Philadelphia.”

Last year, she gave a talk at TEDxPortland called “Policing in America: The Road to Reconciliation.”

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