Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson has always felt more at ease on a hardscrabble street in the role of a social worker than he has as the chief in a sprawling office, decorated with leather furniture and artwork, at police headquarters, says the Philadelphia Daily News. In seven months Johnson, 64, will retire at a time of untamable murder in a city plagued with too many illegal guns and drugs. Yesterday saw the year’s 200th murder.
While some say Johnson has the impossible job of fixing the unfixable, residents on the poorest and richest streets alike blame him for not doing enough. His rank and file describe him as either apathetic or overwhelmed. Johnson – who has chased gunmen, convinced wanted criminals to give up and, led one of the largest police-corruption investigations in city history – says he’s at peace. His force of 6,600 cannot stem violence alone, he says. Instead he focuses on things he believes he can change. He’s diversified the department, and he’s mentored dozens of kids to try to save them from the deadly drug culture. He describes himself foremost as a proud Black Muslim, a product of the civil-rights era.