What to Know About Philadelphia's New Top Cop
- Danielle Outlaw began her tenure as Philadelphia police commissioner Monday.
- Outlaw, 43, is the first black woman to lead Philadelphia's police department.
- Outlaw's challenges include trying to curb gun violence in a city where homicides are at the high level in more than a decade.
New Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw began her tenure Monday with the task of helping to stem high homicide numbers while turning around a police department wracked by both racial and sexual harassment scandals.
Outlaw, 43, was appointed by Mayor Jim Kenney following the abrupt resignation last year of former commissioner Richard Ross, who was accused of inaction despite allegedly knowing of sexual harassment claims within the Philadelphia Police Department, an accusation he denied.
Outlaw is the first black woman to lead the department and has vowed to address crime in the city, especially crimes involving guns. Last year, there were 355 homicides, the highest number since 2007, according to Philadelphia police statistics. In addition, there were more than 2,600 aggravated assaults with a gun and more than 2,100 robberies involving guns.
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“I will work relentlessly to reduce crime in Philadelphia, particularly the insidious gun violence that plagues too many of our communities. And I will do so in a way that ensures our people are treated equitably regardless of their gender identity, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation,” Outlaw said as she was introduced late last year.
At a time when local and federal leaders have publicly squabbled over how to stem violence, her promise of “modern policing” driven by data and by forging trust within communities appears to be in lockstep with the policies sought by both the city’s mayor and district attorney.
District Attorney Larry Krasner mentioned Outlaw's record of championing reconciliation between police and the community as well as her compassion for those suffering from mental illness, addiction and homelessness as traits that could help her succeed in turning around the police department.
But Outlaw faces an uphill task in a city that, only a little over a month into the new year, has already seen 39 killings.
She also has received only tepid support from the local Fraternal Order of Police union’s president, John McNesby, who has sparred with Krasner over the former defense attorney’s reformist policies and past decisions to go after police officers accused of misconduct.
McNesby has said he would have preferred an internal hire as the new commissioner but added that he and FOP members “look forward to a professional, working partnership with Chief Outlaw that includes making our city safer for our residents and our 6,500 police officers, who serve with respect and dedication.”
Outlaw’s desire to build trust within communities will be tested as leader of a department marred by high-profile scandals.
As late as last year, the Plain View Project identified 328 law enforcement officers as making racist, homophobic and violent social media posts. Upon learning that at least 13 officers would be dismissed as a result of the posts, McNesby said his union was "disappointed officers will be fired without due process."
Outlaw’s ability to reshape the culture within the department will be made all the more difficult by her inexperience leading such a large police force.
Before taking on the job of commissioner in Philadelphia, Outlaw spent a little over two years as chief in Portland, Oregon, a department with only a little more than 900 officers. Before that, she worked her way up to deputy chief in the Oakland, California, police department. That department employs fewer than 750 officers, though that number certainly fluctuated during Outlaw’s 20 years there.
Now commissioner of the country’s fourth-largest municipal department, the expectations will be as high as the challenges are numerous. However, in Kenney she has the important backing of the leader of the city and person responsible for her appointment.
“I am convinced she has the conviction, courage, and compassion needed to bring long-overdue reform to the Department. After meeting and speaking with her at length, I came away confident that Danielle Outlaw possesses the strength, integrity, and empathy vital to the tasks ahead," Kenney said after naming her as commissioner.