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October 14, 2015

Former commish, anti-violence activist, others react to Ramsey retirement

Philadelphia police commish to resign at year's end; Richard Ross is likely successor

When Philadelphia welcomes its new mayor in January, the city will also greet a new police commissioner.

During a morning press conference Monday at City Hall, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey announced he'd leave the seat he's occupied for eight years. effective Jan. 7, 2016.

"It's time to move on to another level," Ramsey said.

Former Police Commissioner John Timoney told PhillyVoice on Wednesday that he "wished [Ramsey] well on his next adventure."

"I think Ramsey did a great job in his eight years and managed to keep his sense of humor," Timoney said. "He is a unique person and Philly was very fortunate to have him."

Sylvester Johnson, who was commissioner under Mayor John Street, said that he was happy for Ramsey, who did a "good job while he was here." Noting that he thought the media gave Ramsey "a break" from bad press, Johnson endorsed First Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross as a worthy replacement.

Malik Aziz, a longtime activist working to address gang violence in Philadelphia and beyond, lauded Ramsey's humanity after hearing the news.

"Commissioner Ramsey is a decent human being and a fine law-enforcement official," Aziz said. "At times, I did not agree with some of his tactics, but overall, he did a great job and enhanced community and police relations. Kudos and respect to a good man."

For his part, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey spoke about Ramsey's entire career and put it in a national context.

“For nearly 50 years, Charles Ramsey has served our nation in critical law enforcement capacities," his statement read. "Charles Ramsey became Commissioner at a very challenging time for the city and worked tirelessly to protect the citizens of Philadelphia. 

"At a very trying time for police and community relations in our nation, Commissioner Ramsey has led the effort, through his co-Chairmanship of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, for commonsense reforms that promote healing and cooperation between police and communities while increasing safety.”

Jim Kenney, the Democratic mayoral candidate, didn't make any public statements about the announcement so as not to detract attention from a discussion of Ramsey's service.

For her part, Republican candidate Melissa Murray Bailey said last week that should Ramsey not remain in the position, she was inclined to ask Ross to take the position. She extended congratulations on Wednesday.

"We are grateful that he came to Philadelphia and appreciative of his tireless efforts in service to our community," Bailey said.
But, Ramsey himself played a major role in the May primary. 

After candidate Anthony Williams said he wouldn't retain the commissioner because of community trust issues related to the stop-and-frisk practice – an issue to which both Ramsey's backers and detractors often pointed – Mayor Michael Nutter openly stood up for his top cop.

"Anyone who's not smart enough to ask [Ramsey] to stay isn't smart enough to run this city," Nutter said, in a statement that political observers thought contributed to Williams' inability to muster enough support to win the race.

Now, that sentiment doesn't matter as the winner in next month's general election will have to handpick a commissioner like Nutter did with selecting Ramsey, an outsider, to replace longtime Philly cop Sylvester Johnson in 2008.

That "outsider" status enabled Ramsey to appear free of longtime political ties while publicly questioning a union contract that made it difficult for him to fire dirty cops. So just like in the primary campaign, expect the top-cop issue to be part of the political discussion between now and Nov. 3.

Updated: President Barack Obama also issued a statement about Ramsey's retirement. It reads as follows:

"I want to offer my heartfelt gratitude to Commissioner Charles "Chuck" Ramsey for his nearly five decades of leadership and service with some of this nation's largest law enforcement agencies. 

"From Chicago to DC to Philadelphia, Commissioner Ramsey has always supported our women and men in uniform and the communities they bravely serve and protect each and every day. 

"While I've known about his outstanding work over the years, it was when I appointed Chuck as a co-chair of my Task Force on 21st Century Policing that I was able to rely on his counsel and leadership. 

"For several months earlier this year, he played a vital role in bringing together leaders from across the country to create a clear and concise report including key recommendations for building stronger trust between communities and the law enforcement agencies that protect them. 

"I am extraordinarily grateful for Chuck's service and wish him an enjoyable and restful retirement."