Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey took the floor at a University of Pennsylvania class Thursday afternoon and addressed a room packed with students about the media’s role in public safety.
After a five-minute introduction of himself and his work, the commissioner, who is nearing the four-month mark in his position, opened the floor to questions about everything from his controversial stop-and-frisk policy to Philadelphia’s “stop snitching” culture.
Ramsey also commented on Mayor Michael Nutter’s recent gun law signing.
“I’m not anti-gun, but I do think there needs to be reasonable controls,” he said. “I think that asking the state to pass legislation where you have to report a handgun that you lose or is stolen from you is not asking too much. I don’t see why people need to have an AK-47, so banning assault rifles to me seems reasonable.”
When asked about criticisms of him that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ramsey said he tends to skim everything and make note of good points, but he never lets reporters make him second-guess himself.
“You know why? I’m doing the best I can,” he said. “The next time the commissioner’s job comes open, I implore them to come apply for the job. Until then, I got it and I’ll make the decisions and they can like it or not like it. Because the end result is going to be just that – results. If we’re able to lower the crime rate then it will be successful.”
Ramsey previously served on the police force in Chicago, his hometown, and in Washington, D.C. from 1998 until last January. He likened Philadelphia to Chicago, but told the class it was very difficult to compare to Washington, D.C.
“As far as just an urban environment, Chicago and Philadelphia are easier to compare because Chicago is much larger but it’s very similar in terms of neighborhoods. Some of the issues and problems, just the size of the city, size of the departments – those are comparisons that are easier to make then others,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey turned the tables on the inquiring students and asked if it is OK for an official, like himself, to lie to the media in order to avoid giving out information about an important case?
After receiving various answers from both ends of the spectrum, he said his opinion on the issue.
“This is something where every person has a major decision for themselves. I’ll tell you what mine is. Mine is you don’t talk,” Ramsey said. “There is nothing more important then your personal integrity. With the media, which you’re going to have to deal with again, if you lie to them and mislead them, they will never ever trust you again.
“I don’t believe in ‘no comment,’ personally,” he said. “There’s a way of saying a lot without saying anything and I’ve gotten pretty good at that over the years … They already know that there’s certain things you can’t say. Their job is to ask the question, you’re dumb enough to answer it. You have to know what you can say and what you can’t say.”
Among Ramsey’s major points about the media, he said he believes the media often instill too much of a fear in people.
Ramsey also recently met with Campus Safety Services Executive Director Carl Bittenbender and other representatives to discuss Temple Police’s relationships with the Philadelphia Police Department, said Michael McFall, operations manager for Campus Safety.
While he acknowledges that Philadelphia needs work, Ramsey said he took the job because he wanted to “make a difference” here.
“I came to Philadelphia because I felt I could make a difference. I knew it had issues, but that’s what I was looking for,” Ramsey said. “I wasn’t looking to go to Mayberry or something like that. I wanted a challenge and I got it. This is a great city and I enjoy being here.”
Morgan A. Zalot can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Julia Wilkinson