Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw needs to make herself more visible.
I’m not knocking her.
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I’m rooting for her success. I was excited when I heard she’d been selected to be the city’s first female top cop. I think her outsider perspective is valuable and also necessary to address long-standing, systemic problems in the department. I look forward to hearing her plan to address the city’s burgeoning homicide rate.
But we hardly see her. Previous commissioners were always familiar faces at the scene of major homicides at all times of the night and when policing matters were discussed in City Hall. There has always been an expectation that the commissioner is front and center.
Maybe I was expecting too much too soon. I asked around and found that others felt similarly.
“We’re used to more from our commissioners,” David Fisher of the National Black Police Association said Monday. “We’re used to our commissioners being very visible in this city. We’re used to commissioners addressing issues within the communities, whether they are crime issues or police doing good deeds… .”
“We [hadn’t] had a commissioner since August of 2019,” he added. “I welcomed her and I was in support of her. It’s hard to support someone who is invisible. It means something to the troops when some people are working at home and the troops are out there in the streets every day. … This is what I’m getting from officers out there on the street. They need to see her."
In fairness, Outlaw assumed her role during a particularly difficult time.
The former Portland, Ore., police chief barely had time to settle into her new home before she found herself dealing with the coronavirus pandemic that shuttered nonessential businesses and had residents sheltering in place.
Then, there was the tragic killing of Sgt. James O’Connor IV, who was fatally wounded last month in a barrage of bullets as authorities attempted to serve an early morning search warrant on a murder suspect.
That devastating incident was followed by another one, the death of Lt. James Walker, 59, the first police officer to die of COVID-19.
Since then, there have been scary reports of possibly hundreds in the department affected by COVID-19. Inquirer reporter David Gambacorta reported that at least 800 other officers had been exposed to the virus.
In addition, there are all the political dynamics — inside and outside the department — not to mention the hassle of moving from the West Coast.
Last week, I asked the department for an interview with Outlaw on how it’s been going, but I never got a response.
Meanwhile, even as many crimes such as rapes, thefts, and home burglaries have plummeted, statistics show that shootings are up. That’s a lot to have to deal with in a short amount of time.
"I’m not taking up for her. Other people have come to me with the same discussion in reference to her visibility, ” said Stanley Crawford of the Black Male Community Council, an antiviolence group.
“What the new police commissioner has walked into is a situation where she’s at a disadvantage,” he said.
“I don’t know if we are really taking everything into consideration when we look at the whole dynamic that’s surrounding her coming into the Police Department in February and a month later we have the coronavirus hit and then she has to negotiate the racism that’s within the Philadelphia Police Department and the male chauvinism that’s in the Philadelphia Police Department," he added. "Then you’ve got cronyism.”
Crawford said he had an opportunity recently to sit with Outlaw to discuss an issue surrounding the 2018 murder of his son. He left the meeting feeling encouraged and heard.