Here's who won't be the next police commissioner
Wednesday morning’s announcement that Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey will retire at the end of this year begs many questions.
Who will fill the shoes? Will the replacement be promoted from within or the result of a national search? Male or female? Black or White?
Insiders say the most logical replacement is Richard Ross Jr., first deputy commissioner and 25-year department veteran. Another possibility is SEPTA Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel III, whose public profile has grown in recent years thanks in part to his lively presence on Twitter. But there are other rumors as well.
One question has a clearer answer.
Even among the longest of long-shot contenders for the department’s top seat, you won’t find a single Latino. And the reason is simple, really. There aren’t any Latinos in the upper reaches of the department.
Inspector Sonia Velazquez was the highest ranking of any Latino or Latina in the department before she retired with 30 years of service this summer.
Who’s next down on the ladder? Three Latinos and one Latina hold the rank of lieutenant. For the curious, lieutenants are three rungs removed from inspectors, and six below the commissioner.
The PPD has never had a Latino commissioner nor deputy commissioner. Jose Melendez became the highest ranking Latino in the history of the department at the level of chief inspector (one rung below deputy, two below commissioner). How is it that Latinos have climbed so high and yet always come up short of the two highest positions?
“We don’t know and we’ve been asking that question for years,” says Eddie Lopez, president of The Spanish American Law Enforcement (SALEA) in Philadelphia. “Whether it’s this commissioner or the next commissioner coming in, we should get a Hispanic deputy commissioner.”
Retirement, career changes, and even a scandalous criminal case involving a former inspector — those are a few answers, at least on the surface, as to why there are no Latino top cops. Beneath that veneer, though, there is the problem of even getting people of color into uniform.
Entry-level minority recruitment has been snaillish at best. One of the biggest deterrents is the mandatory 60 college credits (or equivalent military service) that one needs to enroll in the police academy.
“For Blacks and Hispanics, if you’re going to college, you’re more likely not going to choose to be a police officer,” Lopez says.
For those coming from low-income communities of color, college and the military are gateways to “bigger and better things, whether it’s the FBI, U.S. Marshal, or Secret Service.” Other critics have said that the anemic police-community relations don’t exactly incentivize young people of color to join the force in droves.
In 2013, the city’s population was 44 percent Black, 36 percent White, 13 percent Latino and 7 percent Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But the department’s numbers don’t reflect well for Blacks (33 percent), Hispanics (8 percent) and Asian (1 percent). Today, there are just over 600 Latino officers in a force of about 6,500.
Having a Black police commissioner is favorable to the largest racial demographic in the city — one of the many reasons that Ross is the most obvious choice as successor.
Ross, who is African American, would mean an internal promotion, which some are skeptical about. Nestel, white, would still be a local hire. The decision to hire from the hometown or to do a national search will be in the hands of the city’s next mayor. Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney told The Daily News months ago that he thought Ramsey was one of the best commissioners the department had ever seen. Regarding the next commissioner, Kenney said: “If it’s not him, I don’t plan to go outside the department. I think the talent level in the upper ranks in this department is excellent. A lot of the time that Chief Ramsey spends outside of the city, the department is still being run by people here. So I have no need for a national search.”
Kenney's campaign will not be issuing a statement to discuss potential replacements today out of homage to Ramsey's achievements on the force.
Whoever it is, SALEA says they will seek to ensure Latinos are rising in the department at both ends.
“This city is due for a Latino or Latina deputy commissioner — way overdue,” Lopez said. “With the population of the Hispanic community in the city, that should have been done years ago, but for whatever reason it wasn’t.”