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Monday, November 19, 2007

Nutter's Police Chief

I learned the other day, via Mithras, that Mayor-elect Nutter has announced his police chief will be Charles Ramsey, former police chief for Washington D.C. Apparently, the guy is pretty heavy handed. His highlights in D.C. were declaring four crime emergencies (like Nutter wants to do here) that curtail citizens' rights, presiding over mass arrests of demonstrators for which the city later apologized and paid out huge settlements, and instituting traffic checkpoints that lean a little too close to big-brother for my tastes (every driver was entered into a database, regardless of any violations).

I'm not out to bash the guy before his first day of work here in Philly, but I do have some thoughts on the tasks ahead of him. Click "There's more..." for the extended entry.

Ramsey has a tough task ahead of him, and the complexity and scope of it is well beyond my knowledge. I would be so presumptuous, however, to advise against heavy handed police tactics. I think that Commissioner Johnson has worked very hard to try to foster trust and cooperation between the police and the community here. Philadelphia Police Department history is awash in racism and conflict, and there's still a big divide between much of the citizenry and the police. Community policing and building mutual trust is the only way to breach that divide. Stop-and-frisk policies, or other heavy-handed measures to clamp down on crime might feel like they accomplish something, but they often do so at the cost of this community trust.

Johnson has spoken out against Nutter's stop-and-frisk policies, and I think he's wise to do so. Community policing efforts take longer to pay dividends, but they foster the kind of community that people want to live in, not a police state. Stop-and-frisk tactics, on the other hand, foster police state whack-a-mole with crime.

I wish Ramsey well in his new post. I hope that he considers his policies and their impact within the larger context of the city and its historic relationship with crime and police, and not just as blunt tools he brought with him from D.C.

On a related note, anyone wishing to do so can donate to Officer Cassidy's family.