Former D.C. Chief Tapped to Head Philadelphia Force

Charles H. Ramsey headed the D.C. police force for nearly nine years.
Charles H. Ramsey headed the D.C. police force for nearly nine years. (Haraz N. Ghanbari - AP)
By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2007

Former D.C. police chief Charles H. Ramsey was named commissioner of the Philadelphia police force yesterday, taking the job nearly a year after he stepped aside in Washington.

Philadelphia Mayor-elect Michael Nutter (D) announced his decision at a news conference, billing Ramsey as "one of the most well-respected crime fighters in the United States." Ramsey will start in early January.

"I'm excited," Ramsey said in a phone interview from Philadelphia. "I love this stuff. The part I like is carrying things out; the buck stops with you."

Ramsey was the District's longest-serving chief in more than three decades. In his nearly nine years as chief, crime dropped, standards became tighter and training became a higher priority. Ramsey stepped down just before Adrian M. Fenty (D) took office as mayor. Fenty wanted to make his own imprint on the department and selected Cathy L. Lanier to head the force. Lanier has been tested by an increase in homicides this year.

In Philadelphia, Ramsey will oversee 6,600 officers, 2,700 more than he commanded in Washington. Philadelphia has the nation's fourth-largest police force.

Violent crime is down slightly this year in Philadelphia, which has had 353 homicides so far. Last year, Philadelphia had 406 killings, compared with Washington's 169 -- which was a 25-year low for the District.

Philadelphia has been beset by "senseless gun violence," said Norm Bond, spokesman for 10,000 Men Call to Action, a Philadelphia grass-roots movement.

"Young people with guns just don't have the same fear of the law we did 20 years ago," Bond said, adding that he hopes Ramsey will reach out to community groups as part of his leadership.

Nutter, who takes office Jan. 7, made crime a central issue in his mayoral campaign. Ramsey will replace Sylvester Johnson, a veteran commander who is retiring. Johnson, like nearly all of Philadelphia's previous police commissioners, rose from the ranks. He has headed the force since January 2002.

Ramsey, a native of Chicago and a former police commander there, said he has to study the city's violence and crime trends before he decides how to attack them.

"You spend time learning and you figure out where you can strengthen things," he said.

In recent months, Ramsey has been a consultant for U.S. Capitol Police and the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum, among other jobs. He has worked on anti-terrorism planning, drawing on his experience in the nation's capital since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Still, Ramsey said, he missed the challenges of running a big-city force.

He was recently in the running to become police commissioner in Baltimore, but he lost to an internal candidate, Frederick H. Bealefeld III.

Chuck Wexler, head of the Police Executive Research Forum, said Ramsey has the "right stuff" to head the Philadelphia department.

"He's the right guy at the right time in the right place," Wexler said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company