Ramsey to return to Chicago to consult on police reform

CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) - Charles Ramsey — who headed the Washington and Philadelphia police departments during U.S. Justice Department investigations of those agencies — has been invited by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration to return to Chicago to consult on reforming the Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Ramsey, a former deputy police superintendent in Chicago, said the city should embrace the recently launched Justice Department investigation of the Chicago Police Department’s “patterns and practices.”

Ramsey said federal investigators worked cooperatively with the Washington and Philadephia departments while he ran them and that the result was better training for officers and a drop in police-involved shootings in each of those cities.

“We will be just fine,” he said of the Chicago Police Department.

Ramsey, who retired earlier this month as Philadelphia’s police commissioner, said he hasn’t signed a contract with the Emanuel administration but has an agreement to be a consultant.

Ramsey, 65, said he could not discuss how much he will be paid until his contract is finalized.

A South Side native, Ramsey is watching the current selection of Chicago’s next police superintendent from the sidelines for a change. He applied for Chicago’s top cop job in 1998, 2003 and in 2011 — when Emanuel hired Garry McCarthy, who’d been chief of the Newark Police Department and a top official of the New York Police Department.

Emanuel fired McCarthy on Dec. 1, saying he had become a “distraction” following the outcry over the release of a dashcam video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting Laquan McDonald in 2014.

Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of the the 17-year-old, who was armed with a small knife and was found to have PCP in his bloodstream.

Following protests on Michigan Avenue and elsewhere over the video, the Justice Department announced a civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department.

Ramsey left Chicago in 1998 to head Washington’s police department. That year, The Washington Post ran a series of critical stories on police officers using deadly force.

“We did have some issues, no question about it,” Ramsey said. “We had a shooting take place, and there was a huge outcry from the community because of the history of the department. We lacked credibility.”

Ramsey said he contacted then-Attorney General Janet Reno and invited the Justice Department to review his department. Washington entered a seven-year agreement with the feds, which he said resulted in stronger firearms training and other changes.

“Firearms training prior to my arrival was mandatory but not enforced,” Ramsey said. “We had officers going two to three years without training. Tactics were poor when you dissected those cases. Judgment was questionable. We required people to go through training twice a year, myself included — not just target practice, but reality-based training to improve judgment.”

The number of police-involved shootings in Washington dropped 85 percent and have remained at about the same level, Ramsey said.

In 2013, in response to a spike in police-involved shootings in Philadelphia, where he was the police commissioner, Ramsey again invited the Justice Department to review police training and policies.

The 18-month investigation resulted in 91 recommendations that were released in March — and about 40 percent of them have been carried out, Ramsey said. Police-involved shootings have since fallen in that city, he said.

Ramsey, who is also a consultant to the police in Wilmington, Delaware, said he recently traveled to Scotland to learn how police there deal with people armed with knives and blunt weapons. He said they typically confront criminals armed with those types of weapons — and not guns — and that there are few instances of officers using deadly force.

Ramsey would not comment on the McDonald shooting and whether the tactics taught in Scotland might have prevented it, saying he didn’t have enough information on the case. But he said, “The goal is to give officers the tools they need to avoid deadly force, if possible.”

Ramsey, who was co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, said Chicago could adopt many of the recommendations that panel released in May to “improve relationships with the community.”

He also said he thinks the Justice Department investigation of the Chicago Police will produce positive results.

“Parts of it will be painful, but you will come out of it stronger,” he said.

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