New Philly police commissioner wants to extend use of body cams

The new choice succeeds Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and lead the fourth largest police department

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia's next police commissioner said Wednesday he would expand the use of officer body cameras in the department and limit police stops to when there is reasonable suspicion rather than employ "stop and frisk" tactics.

Richard Ross told reporters he sees his appointment as a "passing of the baton" from current Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, whom he called a mentor.

"I don't feel the need to act like we're going to start from ground zero, because we're not. We are going to build on it," Ross said. "Commissioner Ramsey is his own man and he's a great one, but he doesn't expect me to be him. ... I'm my own man."

Mayor-elect Jim Kenney formally announced Ross as his police commissioner pick at an afternoon news conference.

Ross, a 26-year veteran of the force who was widely expected to be named to the post, currently oversees daily operations for 6,000 of the Philadelphia Police Department's sworn and civilian personnel.

From 2005 to 2008, he oversaw department operations, including making policy changes in training and investigations of police shootings. He also coordinated the city's World Series celebration in 2008.

Ross takes the helm of the country's fourth largest police department and will succeed Ramsey, who last month announced his retirement as current Mayor Michael Nutter's administration comes to an end. Ramsey's last day will be Jan. 7.

During his campaign, Kenney was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and vowed to end the police practice of stop and frisk. Ramsey countered that the department does not encourage that policy and that he supports the lawful version of the practice — known as "Terry stops" after the 1968 Supreme Court ruling upholding an officer's right to pat down a person suspected of criminal activity.

Ross said the department will only make stops when "reasonable suspicion" warrants them.

"That is the law, and we obviously cannot arbitrarily stop people for no reason," Ross said. "... Reasonable suspicion is the phrase that we use and that's what we'll be working under."

He said officers receive training every year on legal tactics, and officials would continue "to message out properly what we will and will not tolerate."

He said a pilot program of Philadelphia officers wearing body cameras would "absolutely" be expanded.

"The officers who wear them are excited about it; they think a lot of good things come from that," he said.

According to his biography, Ross joined the Philadelphia Police Department in April 1989 and has served in several roles across the agency, from patrol to homicide to internal affairs. A native of the city, he is a graduate of Central High School and earned degrees from Penn State University and Saint Joseph's University.

Outgoing commissioner Ramsey presided over a dramatic decline in homicides in Philadelphia, which dropped from 391 in 2007 — the year before he became commissioner — to 248 in 2014. Ramsey's reputation also earned him the national spotlight during his tenure; earlier this year, President Barack Obama appointed him to lead a policing task force in the wake of a fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and subsequent national racial tensions between law enforcement and minority communities.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press

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