Charles Ramsey served as the Police Commissioner of Philadelphia from 2007 to 2015 and has been involved with law enforcement since he started as a cadet in the Chicago Police Department. He began working for Drexel Jan. 25, 2016 as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow of the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, a new cross-university strategic initiative that aligns Drexel’s academic work with the real-world need for urban revitalization. He is also affiliated with the Department of Criminology and Justice Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Triangle Talks: Why did you choose to get involved at Drexel?
Charles Ramsey: It all had to do with the amount of respect I have for President Fry. I had the occasion to meet with him about another issue and I mentioned that I was planning to retire, and he and I began to talk about possibilities. It was very clear to me that Drexel would be a place where I would really enjoy working.
TT: What sort of work do you do for the urban strategy planning?
CR: Well, I have not clearly defined that, but I have been to a few meetings. There is a great deal of expansion going on in Drexel. The University is already doing a tremendous amount of work in community service in West Philadelphia and Mantua. Getting the young people here engaged and involved and being a part of that is something that I really truly look forward to, because Drexel is a major anchor here in West Philadelphia, but it’s surrounded by a lot of very challenged neighborhoods.
TT: What sort of change have you made for the criminology and justice department?
CR: I have been available to guest lecture for some of the professors here to directly engage students, answer questions. I think it’s very important — particularly in today’s environment where law enforcement is under a lot of scrutiny — to talk about these issues, and how we build relationships with the community that we serve in a positive way, and how we get positive information out to the public. All of this has brought up interesting questions and dialogue with students. Crime is a very real thing and we should ask how we address it without alienating the community at large.
TT: What was the most compelling question you have been asked by a student?
CR: Questions about use of force, particularly deadly force. They are a great concern to all of us— not just to the community, but to those of us who belong to the law enforcement organization. I think we have to realize that there are a lot of violent crimes taking place in the street: shootings, illegal use of handguns, assaults, homicides and things like that. Police confront the individual responsible for committing those crimes and often times, unfortunately [officers have] to resort to deadly force or, in some cases, are actually shot or killed themselves. You know, I served as police commissioner of Philly for eight years, and during that time I had eight officers killed in the line of duty. Five of those officers were shot to death.
It’s a very real issue that we have to deal with. We focus a lot on making sure officers don’t use unnecessary force and use deadly force only as an absolute last resort.
We need the public to understand some of the issues that we’re up against, but that’s not to try to make excuses for some of the incidents that have occurred across the country when they’re just unexcusable. There’s no reason for an officer to have fired a shot on an undeserving individual. But there has to be balance in the discussion as well.
TT: How can we fight against police discrimination and racial discrimination?
CR: One of the training methods that you see in police departments across the country is something called “Fair and impartial policing.” It really deals with implicit bias. Everybody has a bias of some kind— the question is how to manage them so they don’t interfere or influence us when we do our job. That’s the kind of training that is taking place in police departments. Also, holding police officers accountable when they do exhibit behaviors that might show that they’re biased against particular individuals, by gender, sexual orientation or race.
TT: What would be the main differences between the crime problems of Philadelphia and Washington D.C.? Have you also worked on a campus in DC?
CR: In D.C. we had several colleges and universities located right in the city— Catholic University, American University, Georgetown, George Washington and Howard University. So coming here into Philadelphia I was no stranger to having major college campuses in an urban environment and all of the issues that are associated with that. But I’ve never directly worked on a campus before.
TT: What was your best experience when serving as a police commissioner?
CR: I think my best experience was when I started to see our efforts pay off in reduction in crime. For three straight years, last year and the two years prior to that, we had record lows in terms of the number of murders and assaults dating all the way back to the mid-1960s. Anytime you can have an impact and see the result, it’s very satisfying.
TT: What do you think we, as Drexel Students, can do to solve or contribute to public safety on campus?
CR: I mean be alert, be aware of your surroundings. If you see a student going through some kind of psychological stress, and it looks like perhaps it could be a dangerous situation, just alerting people so we can get them the proper care and help that they may need to get them through that particular time is important.
Don’t be afraid to notify the university police about this guy hanging around on campus that doesn’t look like they really belong there. I think that that’s probably the biggest thing that students can do.
TT: Where is your favorite place on campus?
CR: Well I haven’t found a favorite place on campus yet. I’m still learning. I still need a map in some cases. So it’s a little too early to have a favorite spot.