I wasn’t going to write about this, because I knew that other people would be writing about it, journalists who cover the city and the police department as their regular beats. I figured that there would be some comments critical of former Commissioner Richard Ross, and some comments praising his good work and devotion to his hometown over a three-decade period. I knew that there would be hand-wringing from the people who are enraged any time there are allegations of sexual harassment, and I assumed that there would be statements from those who support the police. I didn’t think we’d hear anything noteworthy from Mayor Jim Kenney, since to me, we never do.
And there was a lot of coverage, befitting the fact that only a few days before Ross resigned, he was being hailed by that same mayor as the best police commissioner in the country. The way he handled a shoot-out in Tioga last week was a textbook example of how you remain calm and effective under inhuman levels of pressure.
But I didn’t see the one thing that I was hoping to see: a criticism, or at least skepticism, of the suggestion that Ross enacted revenge against a former lover. When Audra McCowan sued the Police Department alleging sexual harassment, she made a direct linkage between that abuse and the failure of Ross to do anything specifically because they had an affair back in 2009 until 2011. McCowan alleges that Ross said he let the harassment from a third party go on because he wanted to get back at her for ending the relationship.
When I heard that Ross had resigned over his handling of harassment complaints, I thought that it sounded out of character for the man who has helmed the Police Department with dignity since his old boss, Charles Ramsey, left office a few years ago. With just a few glitches, like his reaction to the infamous Rittenhouse Starbucks case (where he backed away from his previous defense of his officers in response to public scrutiny), Ross has been a staunch defender of the department and its officers. He has also been one of the few adults in the room when Kenney and District Attorney Larry Krasner have, in my opinion, unfairly impugned the reputation of the police. They are not all bigoted denizens of social media, nor are they all bullies with no cultural sensitivity for the communities they police.
And then I heard the allegation, buried in a court document, that Ross had allowed a former girlfriend to be harassed in retaliation for her having ended their relationship. Ross has denied that he ever acted out of retribution, but many have already deemed him guilty in the court of public opinion.
If Ross did not keep a tight ship and allowed women and minorities to be abused, that is a legitimate grievance that needs to be addressed by a judge, a jury, and then the public. But to conclude now, without further evidence, that he allowed an employee to be abused simply because he was a jealous, territorial man is hasty character assassination, something we see too often in this post-MeToo era.
I have no idea what were the dynamics of the relationship between Ross and McCowan. The only people who do are the two principal players. But the way allegations are being treated like facts, and the failure of the mayor to stand behind a man who likely saved dozens of lives last week, is despicable and says more about the people accusing Ross than it does about the commissioner himself.