ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now we're going to turn to the man President Obama tapped to improve relations between law enforcement and communities. Charles Ramsey co-chairs the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. He also served as police chief in both Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, after a 30-year career with the Chicago PD Chief Ramsey, thanks for joining us today.
CHARLES RAMSEY: Thank you and good afternoon.
SIEGEL: You've been very involved in trying to improve police work. You're an African-American man. Given this week's events, I want to - apart from prayers, vigils and town meetings, what are some concrete steps you think the country might take to prevent any more deaths like those in Dallas or in Minnesota or in Baton Rouge?
RAMSEY: Well, I think concrete steps are laid out in the President's Task Force report on 21st-century policing. We have 59 recommendations, about 90 action steps. If those steps are taken, I think they'll have a tremendous impact on policing. And it's on the police side, the criminal justice side, but the community needs to also take that inward look as well, and figure out ways in which they can move toward trying to form the kind of alliances we need to make our streets safe and secure for everyone.
SIEGEL: Did you view the video that Diamond Reynolds took of her boyfriend Philando Castile dying...
SIEGEL: ...From a police gun - shooting? When you saw that, did you think of steps that have been recommended that might have been taken, that might have prevented that from happening?
RAMSEY: Well, the shooting itself or are you referring to...
SIEGEL: Yes, yes, of the shooting itself.
RAMSEY: The only thing I saw - the video shows the aftermath of the shooting. It does not show what led to the shooting. So until all the evidence is presented, all the video that may exist, some of it I'm told - or at least I hear on the media - may be, you know, car cameras or what have you, and we can really figure out what took place, then it's hard to make that kind of call because the tape that I saw simply showed him after he had been shot. Obviously, it was painful to watch and very traumatic. And I really not only feel for the fiancee of the young man, but also the 4-year-old child that witnessed that. It's just tragic all the way around.
SIEGEL: Thinking of last night in Dallas, what does it do to a police department to lose officers in the line of duty?
RAMSEY: Well, it puts officers on edge. I mean, I was chief here in Philadelphia for eight years. I lost eight police officers in the line of duty - five shot to death, three in traffic crashes responding to felony-in-progress calls. It's tough on the entire department, it really is, and so now you have five that were gunned down by an individual in Dallas. This has an impact on the entire country. So, you know, I think everyone needs to take a collective deep breath and really start thinking through what these issues are, and coming up with some real concrete action in order to resolve many of these problems because we just can't continue down this path.
RAMSEY: I mean, this is only going to lead to more violence and destruction, and we just can't have that.
SIEGEL: The death of Philando Castile near St. Paul, Minn., was reminiscent in one way to the death of Eric Garner in New York City a couple of years ago. Both deaths began with allegations or suspicions of minor, or at least certainly nonviolent, offenses - a car with a broken taillight, a man selling loose cigarettes. And I'm just curious - these are offenses, but is there a danger that the police may be trying to enforce a degree of public order, or tidiness even, that may not really be necessary for public safety in some of these cases?
RAMSEY: Well, but do you really want the police to selectively enforce the laws that they personally feel ought to be enforced? I mean, you know, these are laws that are created by our legislators around the country. If there's a problem with the law, then change the law and either make it a non-offense or at - nothing more than a citation. I mean, you know, these state legislatures and city councils and so forth need to take a look at the laws they currently have on the books and make the changes they need to make. I don't think you want to leave it up to individual police officers to decide that, you know, I'll enforce this particular law and not another. And you talk about bias and unfair or unequal enforcement, you're opening the door for that if you allow that to happen.
SIEGEL: Your life coincides with the post-Civil-Rights-Act era. When you and I were young men, summers were a time when people worried about riots in American cities. Do you fear that U.S. race relations or police relations might be going backwards, getting worse, getting to where they were back in the late '60s?
RAMSEY: I think we're sitting on a powder keg, and I say that because with social media and these videos that go viral, it really does, I think, alarm people in a way that we've not seen before. And I think an entire country is adjusting to this technology and how we should respond and react when we see these kinds of things. So yes, I am concerned...
RAMSEY: ...That for, you know, a variety of reasons that are a lot different from what it was in the '60s.
SIEGEL: Charles Ramsey, thank you very much for talking with us.
RAMSEY: OK, thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.