When Mayor Jim Kenney put out a call for citizens to weigh in on who should be the next leader of Philadelphia’s police department, Malcolm Jenkins was paying attention. And the Eagles safety took it to heart.
At a standing-room-only event Monday, Jenkins — through Players Coalition, the social-justice nonprofit he co-founded — assembled a panel of prominent Philadelphians to discuss what qualities are most needed in the next police commissioner. He shared the stage with prosecutors, community organizers, spiritual leaders, and the city’s only multi-platinum rapper pushing for probation reform, Meek Mill.
But Jenkins didn’t want the star power of the event’s lineup to drown out the residents assembled at Community College of Philadelphia.
“We wanted to create a forum where these voices can be heard and weigh in,” Jenkins said. “And we wanted to package it in a way for Mayor Kenney to consider. If he is listening to the concerns of the citizens, this is the first step."
Mill may seem an unlikely pundit for discussing who should next lead the city’s 6,300-member police force. But in recent months, the 32-year-old South Philadelphia native has become a frequent and vocal champion of criminal-justice reform.
Earlier this year, he co-founded the Reform Alliance, an organization that aims to reduce the number of people imprisoned and on probation.
“The system is a big monster, and there’s so many different layers,” Mill said. “I wanted to take my situation and create a platform to tell my story."
Mill’s decade-long struggle with probation from drug and weapons offenses ended this summer, when the rapper pleaded guilty to one charge and saw the others dropped by the District Attorney’s Office.
He stressed that in neighborhoods where people feel unsafe, police officers need to “bridge a gap” between them and those they’ve sworn to serve. And the precedent for that, he and the other panelists argued, is set by the person at the top of the organization.
At the moment, it is unclear who will fill that role.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross, a member of his hometown department since 1989, abruptly resigned in August amid accusations that he failed to properly handle a sexual-assault complaint from an officer with whom he once had a personal relationship.
His replacement, acting Commissioner Christine M. Coulter, has already seen her leadership skills tested: In her short tenure, she’s been forced to address multiple shootings of children and the ouster of Chief Inspector Carl Holmes over sexual assault allegations, which was years in the making.
Those recent developments, among others, stood out for the event’s attendees, who said the next leader needs to bring about a major culture shift.
“We want cops to come into our communities and understand our communities,” said Lason Miller, 27. “And not just while they’re policing it. They need to have conversations with us; that’s how it starts.”
Warren Upchurch agreed about the value conversations can have. It was why he brought 100 kids from his youth group, New Options More Opportunities, to the campus.
“They see crime going on all the time, but we try to keep them in a room where positive is being spread," Upchurch said. “We need our next commissioner to be someone who wants our youth to flourish.”