Philadelphia First Deputy Police Commissioner John M. Stanford Jr., who will take over the top job on an interim basis when Commissioner Danielle Outlaw departs. (Philadelphia Police Department)

After a three-year tenure filed with controversy and tumult, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw is out. Her last day is Sept. 22, when she’ll head to a new job as a deputy security chief at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Mayor Kenney announced today.

When Outlaw resigns, she’ll be succeeded by a top-ranking PPD veteran who’s served on the force for over two decades.

That’s John M. Stanford Jr., the current first deputy commissioner for field operations, whom Kenney tapped to serve as interim police commissioner.

Stanford, Outlaw’s hand-picked second-in-command for the past year, was arguably the natural choice to fill the gap, but his name had also come up in discussions of who might succeed Outlaw permanently if she chose to leave along with Kenney, whose term ends this year.

Either way, Stanford could be in the temporary position for some time. 

It typically takes several months for the mayor to pick a new top cop, so Kenney may leave the decision to his successor — Democratic nominee Cherelle Parker or Republican nominee David Oh.

Might Parker, who is heavily favored to win, decide to keep Stanford in place? In recent decades, Philly mayors have tended to alternate between elevating internal candidates and bringing in outsiders. The former councilmember hasn’t yet hinted at her approach, though Parker did release a statement praising the outgoing commissioner, lauding her for dealing with a “tornado of black swan events.”

It’s a tough time to be leading the Philly Police Department. Recruitment is down, vacancies are rampant, and gun violence, while finally dropping from its pandemic spike, remains persistently high. The police union and district attorney have publicly sparred, and an officer is in the crosshairs for fatally shooting a civilian during a traffic stop.

Will Stanford be up to the challenge? Here’s some background on the man who will oversee Philadelphia law enforcement in the coming weeks and months.

A former head of Internal Affairs 

As first deputy commissioner for field operations, Stanford serves as Outlaw’s second-in-command and ranks higher than the other deputy commissioners. 

Outlaw promoted him to the position as part of a leadership shakeup in September 2022 following a reported dispute with a different former deputy, Christine Coulter, who herself once served as interim commissioner and was the first woman to hold the position. 

Stanford previously held a variety of prominent jobs with the PPD, most notably commanding officer of Internal Affairs, which investigates allegations of police misconduct. He’s also been a public information officer, which gave him greater public visibility than most department leaders.

He’s been commanding officer in the 19th Police District, which covers a large section of West Philly, including Overbrook, Overbrook Park, Wynnefield, and Carroll Park. Over his 21 years of service, he’s also worked in the 12th, 18th, and 22nd districts, and the South Detective Division, according to his official biography.

In addition to media relations, he has experience with policing tactics, plainclothes and narcotics enforcement, investigations, and community policing, per the department.

A ‘trusted messenger,’ per councilmember

Stanford was quickly praised Tuesday for being able to provide continuity with existing police practices and policies. 

He is “more than capable and competent to carry out anything we have in progress,” Outlaw told the Inquirer.

Stanford “has served as a trusted messenger on behalf of the Philadelphia Police Department,” said at-large Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson, who lives in Wynnefield. “He will be able to jump right into the role and ensure that we continue to serve the great people of Philadelphia with fidelity.”

He had already been touted as a possible future commissioner after he represented the department during a budget hearing earlier this year. Outlaw was out recovering from a car accident at the time.

For what it’s worth, he’s also got the support of famed Philly sports fan Monty G, who posted a photo of himself with Stanford and wrote, “Big Shout Outs to PPD’S New up & coming Commissioner My Man ‘John Stanford’ who’s about to Represent 💯💪Baby Baaby!! Congratulations.” 

A PSU grad who rose through the ranks

Stanford has a degree in criminal justice from Penn State and a master’s in organizational development and leadership from St. Joseph’s University.

He also studied at Northwestern University’s police leadership program, the FBI National Academy, and the senior management institute of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington D.C.-based research organization.

He started his law enforcement career as a probation and parole officer for Philadelphia court’s system, according to his biography, and joined the police department in 2002.

A voice in the news

Stanford has been a regular voice in news coverage of the Philly police department. Below are a handful of his recent appearances.

  • In April Stanford talked about new surveillance cameras being installed near recreation centers as a deterrent. “They also work to capture so much of the crucial evidence that’s instrumental in prosecuting individuals that commit crime,” he said.
  • Earlier this year, he spoke at a City Council hearing about how public sentiment toward police was making it difficult to recruit cadets and fill vacant positions. “Coming out of the past few years, quite frankly, police hasn’t been the most popular profession. That is starting to shift slightly,” he said.
  • Last November he discussed how a court agreement over the department’s stop-and-frisk practices had sharply reduced pedestrian stops and contributed to a decline in arrests. “The more people you stop,” the more arrests, he said, adding, “You’ve got to find the right balance.”
  • After a student was killed outside Roxborough High School following a football scrimmage last September, Stanford addressed reporters at the scene, saying that after school sports are “one of the things that we encourage our kids to do, and then for them not to make it home…  There’s one family that their son won’t make it home today.”
  • In May 2018, Stanford, the 19th district commander at the time, participated in a walk with relatives of 17-year-old Sandrea Williams, who was fatally shot two weeks earlier.
  • In December 2018 he discussed the police department’s practice of “scoop and run,” where officers put shooting victims in a police car and rush them to the hospital. 

“I can tell you about times where there’s a victim in the back of my car and every other word is an expletive to us. ‘I’m not snitching, punk-ass cop.’ And I’m still driving like a bat out of hell to get this guy to the hospital to save his life.”

Meir Rinde is an investigative reporter at Billy Penn covering topics ranging from politics and government to history and pop culture. He’s previously written for PlanPhilly, Shelterforce, NJ Spotlight,...