Mayor-elect Michael Nutter has chosen Charles Ramsey, former police chief of Washington, D.C., as Philadelphia’s next police commissioner.
Ramsey has a long history as a police officer and chief, and helped lower crime in Washington. However, his record also has blemishes, which Philadelphia should recognize.
Ramsey has been accused of civil rights abuses in the past.
In 2002, Washington police arrested protesters of the World Bank en masse, without first ordering them to leave. Because of the wide net cast and the abruptness, many observers and media members were also arrested. Ramsey has also presided over traffic stops that entered motorist’s information into a database, even though they had not committed a crime.
“They are prepared to take that risk,” said Anthony Monteiro, a professor of African-American Studies here at Temple.
“Under the guise of getting the bad guys, they cast a wide net,” he said, even though “stop-and-frisk is a threat to civil liberties and protesters, but also to ordinary people.”
Charles Ramsey’s harsh methods will only serve to alienate the police and civilians more. People who now are on the fence about supporting the police department will be influenced otherwise if Ramsey repeats his actions here.
“Cops are supposed to stop a guy if he looks suspicious,” said Mark Bryan, a North Philadelphia resident. “Well, what does that look like?”
Given both Philadelphia’s troubled history of police-civilian relations and the current wave of violence toward both civilians and police, Nutter should have chosen someone with a better civil rights record. Some people may argue that giving up civil rights for a bit in order to secure peace is worth the trade. But harsh punishments and crackdowns will only curb the violence. They will have to be continued indefinitely unless the roots of the violence are dealt with.
“You can’t look at schools and recreation centers go out the window and not expect a price,” Monteiro said. “To fight crime at this level you have to look at the social causes.”
“If people could get jobs in their own neighborhoods,” Bryan said. “They would take pride in it, because they built it.”
In the meantime, Nutter could have made a better choice in choosing the next police commissioner. Ramsey has been divisive in Washington, and has also cost the city millions of dollars in lawsuits over civil rights abuses. Philadelphia’s treasury, public image and citizens cannot afford to deal with the type of behavior Ramsey has exhibited.
Stephen Zook can be reached at email@example.com.