There haven’t been many police commissioners in Philadelphia who’ve won the respect of both rank-and-file cops and most residents. By and large, Ramsey has. Sure, some of that has to do with his actual policing accomplishments. Violent crime and homicides fell off pretty sharply in 2008, when Ramsey and Nutter took over. But I’d contend his personality has as much to do with his popularity as anything else. Nothing about Ramsey feels forced or fake. There’s something about him that makes him feel approachable (maybe it’s the freckles?), but nobody would suggest that he’s soft. He has a knack for finding just the right tone to meet the occasion, whether it’s mourning the loss of a fallen officer or firing rogue cops.
A 2008 Philadelphia magazine profile described Ramsey’s policing strategies and concluded they had their origins in his training as a Chicago cop. Soon after arriving in Philadelphia from Washington, D.C., Ramsey disbanded a 46-member special unit and assigned the officers to the city’s nine worst police districts.
It made sense, but felt underwhelming: That’s it? You looked at a crime map and shuffled your roster? “There’s nothing fancy about the plan,” Ramsey said then. “This isn’t Batman and Robin coming out of a cave somewhere and suddenly solving all our problems.”
Ramsey’s strategies aren’t far removed from those his old friend John Timoney brought here from New York — track crime stats, analyze trends, and follow the “broken widows” theory that links quality-of-life issues with serious offenses. Back when Ramsey, climbing the ranks as a young cop in his hometown of Chicago, was placed in charge of a new “community policing” program, the notion that interacting with folks in the neighborhoods could help combat crime was foreign.
Philadelphians seem resigned to losing their police chief to Chicago, though. As Kerkstra points out, “Chicago is home to him. It’s got a famous new mayor in Rahm Emanuel, and—in Ramsey’s own telling—the crime in Chicago is easier to get a handle on than it is in Philadelphia. The money is better there too.”