Police Discipline System ‘Broken,’ says Former Philly Chief

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Police at Washington, DC protest. Photo by Geoff Livingston via Flickr.

The killing of George Floyd could prove to be a historic turning point, comparable to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in 1955, Charles Ramsey, the former police chief of Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, said Wednesday.

“One event can lead to change beyond anyone’s imagination at the time,” said Ramsey, a member of former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Charles Ramsey. Courtesy Pennsylvania Council on Crime and Delinquency

Ramsey’s remarks came during a virtual conversation on “Race in America” sponsored Wednesday by the Washington Post.

He discussed the impact of Floyd’s death with DeRay Mckesson, a leading voice of the Black Lives Matter movement and co-founder of Campaign Zero, who said, “This is a moment we can peel back all these layers that some people didn’t think existed before.”

Mckesson supports growing calls to “defund the police,” which he defined as reallocating funds to organizations and experts that most need them.

“It really is this idea of move the money to follow the responsibilities,” Mckesson said. “Who should be dealing with the mental health crisis? Probably an expert, probably not a police officer. We should permanently remove those responsibilities and permanently move those resources.”

Ramsey had a more measured view.

“I don’t fundamentally disagree with social services people having to respond to various situations” rather than police. The challenge with deploying social workers and experts to help, he said, is the 24-hour nature of the public’s needs.

“After 5 pm, when all these people go home, that’s when things happen.”

He pointed out that domestic violence calls are one of the most dangerous situations anyone could face. “Some of the professionals are going to want back-up by the police.”

Police accountability was the key, both men said.

“The system of discipline and policing is broken,” said Ramsey. Supervision is often flawed because officers move up to get the pay increase rather than having any sort of interest in or ability to supervise fellow officers.

“Good apples have to take care of the bad apples,” said Ramsey.

The ability to remove bad officers from their job needs to be addressed in the terms and conditions of union contracts.

“There are too many cops that are on the job that should not be on the job,” Ramsey said.

Mckesson is a proponent of #8CANTWAIT, the eight key policies that supporters say will reduce the harm caused by police in the short-term.

DeRay Mckesson via Wikipedia

“There is 40 years of research that supports the conclusion that more restrictive use of force leads to less killing in cities,” said Mckesson.

A challenge in analyzing the research is that detailed accounts do not go back far enough, he said, and criminologists have focused on studying incarceration rather policing.

Ramsey said, “Neck restraints should be prohibited. Another one in that category is banning shooting at cars. There have been restrictions on use of force already. Should we evaluate and add? Yes.”

“There should be ‘sanctity of life,’ first and foremost before anything else,” said the former police chief.

The metrics of success for police can no longer be simply the numbers of arrests made, said Mckesson.  Such numbers can become meaningless.

Policing cannot come to a complete end, Ramsey cautioned.

“There is still real violent crime taking place. You still have to investigate homicides. We don’t want vigilantes. We need good constitutional policing.”

Videos of the conversation can be seen here.

Nancy Bilyeau is deputy editor of The Crime Report

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