Mayor Jim Kenney hopes to pick a permanent police commissioner by the end of this year, his office said Monday, and the city will enlist the help of a police research organization based in Washington to identify and interview candidates from both inside and outside the department.
Kenney’s office said in a news release that a team of city officials — it did not say who — would be working over the next several months with the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in seeking a replacement for Richard Ross, who abruptly resigned last month amid an allegation that he had retaliated against a woman with whom he once had an affair.
Kenney subsequently appointed Christine Coulter as acting commissioner, and has said she remains a candidate to assume the role permanently. In its news release, the Mayor’s Office did not specify any additional candidates. His spokesperson, Mike Dunn, said Kenney wanted a commissioner who could improve public safety, build and sustain relationships with the community, and continue reforming the department’s policies.
PERF’s executive director, Chuck Wexler, said in an interview Monday that his organization would be primarily involved in "outreach,” helping the city identify a broad pool of applicants. He did not identify any potential candidates and said many details were still being finalized.
Asked how much the city planned to pay PERF, Dunn, said a contract was being negotiated.
Kenney said the city had launched an online survey “to gather the public’s feedback on what issues they think are most important, on what characteristics the next commissioner should have, and to provide any other feedback they think we should consider in our search.”
Ronda Goldfein, chair of the Police Advisory Commission, a citizens’ watchdog group, said she hoped Kenney would ultimately go further and give some citizens — including representatives from the commission — a seat at the table during the process. (Goldfein is married to Inquirer editor David Lee Preston.)
The Rev. Mark Tyler, senior pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. church, and the Rev. Gregory Holston, executive director of POWER, a Philadelphia civil rights group, agreed, and said in interviews Monday that they and a group they supported, the Rally for Justice Coalition, hoped Kenney would pick a black woman to lead the department.
“A black woman at the top of the organization means that change is being taken seriously,” Holston said, referencing scandals the department has weathered this summer — including Ross’ resignation and, separately, hundreds of officers being accused of posting racist or offensive material on Facebook.
Last week, The Inquirer also published a photograph of Coulter wearing a T-shirt bearing the words “L.A.P.D. We Treat You Like a King,” a slogan printed on shirts in Los Angeles after police officers there were videotaped in the infamous beating of Rodney King in 1991.
Coulter, who has the backing of the police officers’ union, said she never believed the shirt was a reference to Rodney King. Tyler said Monday the shirt “raises too many questions," and that he also found it problematic that Coulter was a named defendant in the same lawsuit that precipitated Ross’ departure.
City officials did not name any candidates they expected to interview. Managing Director Brian Abernathy said: "We expect that we will find the right person to lead our police department by the end of the calendar year.”