Philadelphia's Retiring Top Cop: 'I've Never Pretended To Be Perfect' Philadelphia's Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey is retiring at the end of the year. Under his watch, the murder and violent crime rates are lower than they've been in decades.
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Philadelphia's Retiring Top Cop: 'I've Never Pretended To Be Perfect'

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Philadelphia's Retiring Top Cop: 'I've Never Pretended To Be Perfect'

Philadelphia's Retiring Top Cop: 'I've Never Pretended To Be Perfect'

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On Tuesday, Philadelphia will elect a new mayor. One of that person's first duties will be to find a new police chief. Philadelphia's Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey is stepping down at the end of the year. As Bobby Allyn of member station WHYY reports, Ramsey helped lead the national conversation about law enforcement and made many Philadelphia residents feel safer.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: James Williams cuts hair at the $10 Barber Shop in West Philadelphia. And he says in recent years, the police presence around the business has gone up.

JAMES WILLIAMS: Walking, cars, bikes - they patrol the beat a lot. They're walking up and down the street. They post up. You're starting to see a little bit more.

ALLYN: On the other side of town in North Philly, there's a different perception.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How you doing?

ALLYN: Alyece Holt was dying her dreadlocks royal blue in the salon where she works. She thinks police just respond more quickly to incidents in whiter neighborhoods around university campuses.

ALYECE HOLT: And they are protected very well. The streets are - their streets are clean and everything else. But around in the more urban part of North Philadelphia - no. We don't feel any - well, I don't feel any safer.

COMMISSIONER CHARLES RAMSEY: We haven't done enough in some neighborhoods. There are still some neighborhoods that are far too unsafe. There are too many people being shot on the streets of our city, too many murders, too many robberies, too much crime.

ALLYN: It's not clear how much credit Ramsey alone deserves for the plummeting crime numbers, but many residents think it's no coincidence. Last year, the department reported a 30 percent drop in violent crime compared to 2006, when violence hit a 50-year high. Part of Ramsey's focus was on community policing, meaning more foot and bike patrols.

JERRY RATCLIFFE: What foot patrols are doing is they are allowed the officers to spend time on foot and get to know the good people in the neighborhood and really get to know the bad people in the neighborhood. And you can't do that when you're driving down the street at 40 miles an hour.

ALLYN: Criminologist Jerry Ratcliffe says Ramsey also tightened up the standards for becoming an officer. And he put cadets through a program about the history of police brutality, something he first did when he oversaw Washington, D.C.'s, police force. When Ramsey announced his retirement, Mayor Michael Nutter had a hard time containing his emotions.


MICHAEL NUTTER: There are young people alive today who, 10 years ago, may not have lived in our city, but because of your work...

ALLYN: In 2007, Nutter convinced Ramsey to come out of retirement to lead Philadelphia's force of 6,500 officers. On most quality-of-life measures, the mayor says Ramsey couldn't be out done. Philadelphia Daily News crime reporter David Gambacorta says Ramsey's legacy will cast a long shadow.

DAVID GAMBACORTA: Look at the most recent election we had. Ramsey was more popular with voters than any of the current people running for office or recent political figures in the city. And I think that's significant. He's not from Philly.

ALLYN: He's from Chicago, and this is an important point. Because of his outsider status, he was willing to go toe-to-toe with the city's powerful police union. And when police-involved shootings spiked, he asked the U.S. Department of Justice for an audit.

GAMBACORTA: I don't think he's faced as much criticism as you would expect a guy who has spent eight years in a volatile city like Philadelphia.

ALLYN: President Obama selected Ramsey to co-chair the Task Force on 21st Century Policing after the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson and Staten Island. The group called for more diverse police forces, more transparency about tactics and a softer touch to policing in general. Despite receiving national accolades, he does have detractors. Drexel political science professor George Ciccariello-Maher has been critical of the chief's defense of the city's stop-and-frisk program.

GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER: Charles Ramsey's tenure as Philadelphia police commissioner was always more about style than substance, always more about putting a national image out there than about actually changing policing on the ground.

RAMSEY: Well, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. That is I'm not perfect, and I've never pretended to be perfect.

ALLYN: Finding Ramsey's perfect successor will be up to the city's next mayor. For NPR News, I'm Bobby Allyn in Philadelphia.

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