Protesters skirmished with police and angry residents shouted while pointing fingers at Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey. The New York Times reported that instead of discussing the incident in which a police officer fatally shot a black man in the back of the head, metal chairs were hurled and 10 arrests were made.
More than anything, the episode showed that even in a city with a black mayor, a black district attorney and a black police chief, police departments across the country are still fighting negative images of law enforcement and trying to regain the trust of the public, mostly African-Americans.
Ramsey, police commissioner for a city known in the past for corruption and brutality against black residents, has placed himself in middle of all the unrest, taking the lead in a national police reform movement.
“I do know there is a problem we’ve got to fix,” Ramsey said. “Because however large or small the community is that doesn’t trust the police, that have these kinds of concerns, we need to address them and address them very, very quickly.”
The police commissioner has been chosen as the chairman of a White House commission on police reform. The group released a report earlier in the month that advocated for police across the nation to exhibit great transparency and work more with communities.
Even before the recent incidents in Ferguson and New York, Ramsey had asked the Justice Department to analyze the practices of his own department after a rash of fatal police shooting in Philadelphia. The nation’s fourth largest police department had 65 police-related deaths in a span of only five years.
Ramsey had requested a similar review by the DOJ when he was police chief in Washington from 1998 to 2006. He said police shootings decreased by 80% after training and other reform.
According to The New York Times, the Justice Department report is likely to recommend changes that go to the heart of police practice and policy. Police officers will also likely be required to undergo additional drills based on real situations and to attend courses on how to approach conflicts with citizens in ways that reduce the number of episodes in which officers believe they must shoot to protect themselves.
“I really think officers out there in the community need to see their roles differently,” Ramsey said. “We’re not at war with communities we serve. We use terms like ‘fighting crime,’ ‘war on drugs,’ all those kinds of things, that really over time develop a mind-set both among the police and also the public that is not real healthy.”
Ramsey assisted in developing a course with the National Constitution Center to train recruits on how to act as officers in a complex democratic society. He was also involved in creating a program about what police officers could learn from the Holocaust.