June 11, 2015
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said law enforcement needed to be respectful of citizens’ rights and that the current dialogue around policing methods could lead to positive change during a speech Thursday before a packed Temple University auditorium.
“It is important for us to know the history and understand police have not always stood on the right side of justice as we define justice today,” Ramsey said during his 20-minute TEDx talk. “There is a lot of baggage.”
“Here is the problem. We didn’t think about the collateral damage we have caused in many of the communities by aggressive policing tactics.” – Charles Ramsey, Philadelphia police commissioner
Ramsey was one of 14 speakers to speak at the annual event. TEDx conferences are local versions of TED talks, which bring in a diverse group of people to present innovative ideas. The theme of Thursday’s session was the complex meaning behind the last four words in the pledge of allegiance: “and justice for all.”
Ramsey said that when crime skyrocketed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were several new methods developed to push the rate of violence back down. He said now that crime has decreased to its lowest level in decades, new philosophies have to be deployed.
“Here is the problem,” Ramsey said. “We didn’t think about the collateral damage we have caused in many of the communities by aggressive policing tactics."
People “don’t measure success solely by the absence of crime but by the presence of justice,” he said. “We missed that.”
Ramsey is working on a new training program for new police recruits with the National Constitution Center to show law enforcement’s complicated role in a democratic society.
Using this project as a theme, he mentioned moments in history where police were later shown to be on the wrong side of justice. He told of visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the District of Columbia, where he was troubled to see pictures of police standing alongside Nazis.
He said it was important that police officers think of their job as upholding the Constitution and not just the law.
“It’s about protecting people’s rights,” Ramsey said.
“It is important for us to know the history and understand police have not always stood on the right side of justice as we define justice today,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said during his TEDx talk Thursday at Temple University. “There is a lot of baggage.” (Matt Rourke / AP)
Ramsey co-chaired President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which was established in the aftermath of protests in reaction to the police-involved killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City. The task force studied ways to improve relationships between the police and community.
“We aren’t at war with anybody,” Ramsey reiterated.
TEDx talks offer a mix of people with diverse expertise and Thursday’s session was no different - Ramsey followed an artist who spent 70 months locked up in a federal prison because of a non-violent drug offense. Ramsey’s tagline was “law enforcement innovator.”
His speech was sporadically interrupted by applause. He said while many officers do a great job, others do not act properly.
“Every video that is shown doesn't necessarily show misconduct but there are some that do,” Ramsey said in an interview with press after his speech. “And some of the actions that I’ve seen quite frankly are appalling.”
“The bottom line is we need to be held accountable we have to be held accountable because we are police officers," he said. "We are here to uphold the law not break the law, not abuse any authority or anyone’s rights.”