Daily News reporter Morgan Zalot sat down with Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey earlier this month to talk about murders, shootings, and the police department's strategies to get violent offenders off the street and stop the bloodshed. Here, a full transcript of the Dec. 5 interview:
Morgan Zalot: When we talked in June, the homicides were up a little more than 20 percent from last year, now they're only up about 3 percent.
Commissioner Charles Ramsey: 2.6 [percent]. That's much better. We hit a point in the spring [this] year where we were up 32 murders over last year, which is significant. Had a very bad January, and just didn't recover, but we've gradually been getting it down. In fact, until we had this last weekend, which was not a good weekend, we were actually even with last year. So we're only 2 percent up now, which you know, obviously you wish we were not even up that high, but that certainly is an improvement.
M.Z.: What do you attribute the improvement to?
C.R.: First of all, our shootings now are down 8 percent, and what we're finding is that the mortality rate is up. And that's because we're … going to scenes where people have been struck multiple times. Well, you go to scenes, so you see. When's the last time you've been to one where you saw one shell casing on the street?
M.Z.: Very rare.
C.R.: You know, I mean really. You see nothing but yellow placards all over the street. They're all over the place. So people are shooting multiple shots, they're getting struck multiple times. High-caliber weapons. We started something this year where we get to the scene now, officers put the victim in the car and get them right to the hospital, because we had people that were literally bleeding out before medical, the EMS, could arrive. So we put them right in the car and get them right to the hospital as soon as possible. We're very fortunate to have excellent trauma centers here, which, believe me, help tremendously in terms of that.
But there are a variety of things. One, we've targeted the days of the week, times of day when we do have the most violence occurring, and … using overtime all year long, we've been deploying additional officers in those areas, but not only that; actually checking their activity to make sure that they're actually out there making stops, making arrests, doing the things that they need to do in order to kind of tap down on the violence.
We had GunStat, which targets very specific areas in the 22nd, 24th and 25th districts. People who have a history of violence, when they get caught carrying a gun, we've been able through the [District Attorney]'s Office to request higher bonds, and of course have been doing that, so they're off the streets. And as you know, the majority of people that are victims of homicide engage in high-risk behavior, which doesn't justify anybody getting killed, obviously, but increases the likelihood of having something happen to you, if you engage in that kind of behavior. That's not everybody, obviously, but there's a significant percentage where that is the case.
We also are working with our federal partners. We had … some additional federal agents during the summer. The so-called "surge" that you heard about that targeted specific areas.
So we used everything available to us to try to get a handle on things. We continue to do that. I recently reorganized the department, trying to streamline a little bit and make sure that we had the right people in positions to be able to continue to push forward. So I don't know if there's any one thing. I don't think it is. I think it's always a combination of things. But if you can identify the right people and get them off the streets, then the likelihood of having shootings is lessened.
The other thing that we do on a regular basis when we have a homicide or a shooting is we look to see if there's a possibility there's going to be retaliation of some kind. If so, we will certainly try to determine who is likely to be the person or group that's likely to retaliate, then get some additional resources in there to try to intervene and stop that from happening, and that's been very effective.
When you look at the shooting numbers, I mean, down 8 percent. At one point this year, we were up 5 percent in shootings. And I always look at shootings very carefully because a shooting versus a homicide is a question of marksmanship as much as it is anything else. So you have to really look at your shootings, because every shooting is potentially a murder. If a person gets hit in the wrong spot, they bleed out or what have you, you know. So that's a very important thing to look at, and we do track that. I'm very encouraged that the number of shootings is down. They're high, because we have a lot of shootings in this city, but it's down considerably from what it was, and at the same time, our officers are out there really hitting it hard in terms of getting guns off the street, and so forth.
We're down in just about every category of Part 1 crime. Homicide we're just up slightly, we're six up over last year, six actual murders over last year, and sexual assault, we have a slight increase in sexual assault, less than 20 cases higher. Everything else is showing decline. Robbery's down almost 2 percent. Aggravated assault is down 3.7 [percent]. Burglaries down .1 [percent]. Theft is down 2.8 [percent]. Vehicle theft is down 11.4 [percent]. So Part 1 crime is down 3.1 percent.
M.Z.: All Part 1?
C.R.: All part 1 is down 3 percent.
So all that is encouraging. We've got to get a handle on this violence, obviously, and, you know, when you still compare it to 2007 numbers, it's considerably lower, but we're not satisfied. We certainly want to continue to push to try to get our numbers as low as we can.
M.Z.: What are the actual shooting numbers at this point?
C.R.: The actual number of shootings, we have had according to what I'm looking at here, 1,200 shooting victims compared to 1,309 last year. That's down 8.3 percent. That's Jan. 1 through Dec. 4, so that's just as of yesterday.
M.Z.: You mentioned those times of day and days of the week identified as the most violent times. What are those?
C.R.: Friday night, Saturday night is usually when we have the biggest problem, between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. Although we do have some on the weekends that'll go [to] 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock. We did create two years ago an 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift in some of the districts, the night power shift, because we did have that overlap in crime, and we wanted to make sure that we had enough people out there working. So we did that a couple years ago.
M.Z.: The big issue that you hear over and over again from community members and police is that people think it's not going to stop because people – some people – in the city just don't care. How do you get people to care?
C.R.: You mean don't care in terms of the general public or the people who are doing it?
M.Z.: The people who are doing it.
C.R.: The people who are doing it, these are very violent people who don't have much regard for innocent people, or anyone else for that matter. Most of the homicides we have are over very trivial matters. It could be what is perceived to be disrespect. You know, "I don't like the way you looked at my girlfriend," "You bumped into me," you know, "You walked past me and didn't look at me." It's just, it's crazy. I mean, absolutely nothing that would justify even thinking about taking anyone else's life to a person that has normal balance in terms of how they process stuff. But yet it happens.
Arguments. Arguments almost always escalate into a gunfight in some areas of the city, unfortunately. There's no more just fisticuffs and somebody leaves with a bloody nose now. Somebody's going to leave with a gunshot wound or at least getting shot at. So it's very, very difficult. The best way, in my opinion, is to get people like that off the street, because they are violent, and they're going to continue to be violent. They're not going to change.
As far as the general public goes, I think [there is] a lot of publicity around the whole "No snitch." Our clearance rate is almost 70 percent, and we wouldn't have a clearance rate that high if it weren't for good detectives and people that are willing to come forward and cooperate. Now, I'm never happy or satisfied with the level of cooperation, because there are enough cases that we can cite where it's difficult to get witnesses in. We've tried giving rewards and all, that sort of thing. Some people are just intimidated. They're afraid. Some don't want to get involved. It's a variety of reasons why people don't come forward. I mean, they live in these neighborhoods. They have kids in these neighborhoods, and some of these folks are pretty violent and vicious, and they will, if they even think that you're cooperating, cause a problem. So, you know, we have to work with people best we can not to put them in any kind of jeopardy, but at the same time, get the information we need in order to bring a case to successful prosecution. And that's going to always be a challenge, and that is not new. I've been in policing since 1968, and I can tell you that when I was a patrolman in the streets in the early '70s, we had neighborhoods in Chicago where we could not get a person to talk to us whenever something happened. It's not new. It's just got a name now, "Stop snitching." It didn't have a name before. That's about the only thing new. But the fact is that in some neighborhoods, people just don't cooperate. Sometimes it's because they don't trust the cops. In other cases, it's because they're afraid, and in some cases, people honestly think, "Well, it's not me, it's not my family. Why should I put myself out there and get involved?" And, you know, crime is such that it may not be you today, but it can definitely be you tomorrow, or somebody in your family tomorrow. But there are an awful lot of citizens that do get involved and do stand up and do work with us to take back the city streets. An awful lot, and that just seems to go unnoticed.
M.Z.: Will anyone be getting that $20,000 reward for tips in a homicide?
C.R.: I just signed off on one earlier this week. We had the conversation in here, where there was an individual who helped the police clear a homicide and unfortunately he passed away, and the money's going to go to his son who is just an infant now.
M.Z.: Was that the Kensington Strangler?
C.R.: I think that was the Kensington Strangler. I just signed off on that.
When I was in D.C. and we had a similar reward program, it takes a couple years before you really start seeing money, because it's [reward for information leading to an] arrest and conviction, so it's got to go through the court system. So I think in 2013, we'll start seeing some of those, because the Kensington Strangler [case is] two years old.
M.Z.: How many cases – I know this is probably a hard number to say – how many cases would you say that you guys do receive tips in?
C.R.: It happens quite often – more often than you would think. A lot of it is anonymous phone calls – not so much people trying to get reward money, because they may not want to identify themselves, but they do give you some tips that the detective then has to take and develop a case based on that. So it's not enough to just get a warrant and make an arrest, because you don't necessarily have the eyeball witnesses willing to come forward. I'll tell you, what's been very helpful are these videos. Our hit number on the videos is incredible. I don't know what it is now, but …
Public Affairs Lt. John Stanford: We're about 111, as far as clearance tips for the year.
C.R.: Of videos that have led to an arrest? Out of how many, do you know?
J.S.: I don't know as far as total percent.
C.R.: The percentage is very, very high.
But that has been invaluable. When we put a video out, there's a higher probability of us getting a name and a call that'll identify the offender than it is not. That's how effective it is. And we have really been pushing. One of the things I definitely want to do in 2013 is really expand our social-media capabilities. I see that as such a powerful way of not only keeping the public informed, but of actually identifying people who are out here causing harm in the community.
M.Z.: Is that 111 all homicides or overall?
J.S.: That's just crime in general.
C.R.: A lot of them are robberies. Most of them are probably robberies.
But still, I mean, these are guys that come in, they commit robberies. You're one bad move away from a robbery being a homicide.
J.S.: One of the most notable cases was Officer [Moses] Walker. The video system was very helpful.
C.R.: Yeah, we would not have solved that if not for that video.
And there are a lot of cases that we would not have solved had it not been for the video.
M.Z.: Is there any talk of putting more police cameras or city cameras out?
C.R.: No, the 250 is all I've heard, but there is an effort to continue to connect with private cameras. I think there has to be a good mix of both private and public. We don't need to have cameras all over the city, but there are cameras just about [everywhere], I mean, more and more people are getting cameras. We just have to have a way of mapping where they are, because detectives spend an awful lot of time now when they're canvassing looking around to see who may have a camera, and what we're trying to do with SafeCam, which is what we call the project, is get people to register with us so we can just map them and you know exactly where to go. It may yield some kind of evidence.
M.Z.: I've been on scenes where private surveillance cameras have been located, but for whatever reason, people aren't answering their doors – a lot of times it's in the middle of the night – in cases like that, would it be you guys getting a warrant to look at the video?
C.R.: We probably would come back and continue to try, because getting a warrant, one, some of these systems don't record, so you'd have to be able to demonstrate that you could get something of evidentiary value from the premises, and that may or may not be easy to do. In most cases we come back, and granted 3 in the morning is kind of hard, people just don't usually answer their doors at 3 in the morning, but if you come back later on, oftentimes you'll have some success. But oftentimes we find out, too, that a lot of those cameras on houses, they don't record, they're not hooked up. But we get more cooperation than people think we do in many of these cases, I think.
M.Z.: That has to be encouraging.
C.R.: It's not 100 percent, but you know, for every one you get, if it helps you solve a case. We can sit around and moan and groan about the fact that people don't do this, people don't do that. They aren't – even the ones that don't want to cooperate or tell you anything – they're not the bad guys. The bad guys are the ones out here pulling the trigger. They're the ones out here committing the crime and doing all this nonsense, and … I think sometimes we get distracted by looking at other folks. It takes everybody collectively to make a difference, but I also don't want to lose sight of the fact that we wouldn't be knocking on that door if some idiot hadn't shot somebody and killed somebody; that person would be able to sleep through the night instead of having somebody knocking on their door at 3 in the morning trying to get a video.
M.Z.: The clearance rate, 70 percent, was that last year's or as of this year?
C.R.: That's this year's. I forget what last year's was, but we finished pretty well last year. It was the year before we had a down year in clearance rates.
M.Z.: We had talked before about needing infrastructure upgrades, communications upgrades. What are some of the most important things that the city could do for the police department to help you guys out?
C.R.: There are a lot of things being done, but certainly the wireless network upgrades, to be able to push information out to cars in the field through their mobile data terminals, whether it's warrant information, photographs of suspects, things of that nature. There are a lot of things that are being done, but this is a big city with old infrastructure, and it takes time to be able to correct a lot of it, so we just have to continue to push forward.
M.Z.: Plans, new strategies for next year?
C.R.: Our Real-Time Crime Center is up and running and it's been very, very helpful. We're getting a lot of good feedback from men and women in the field about that. The Delaware Valley Intelligence Center should be up and running sometime next year over at 20th and Oregon, and the RTCC will be co-located there as well, so I'm looking forward to that. There is a new youth-violence initiative that the Mayor's put in place. We're one of 10 cities that have been chosen by the Justice Department to launch this particular program targeting basically 14 to 24 year olds, which is the population that make up a significant number of our shooting victims and homicide victims. So we're working on that. We are looking to try to expand GunStat into a couple other areas. [We] don't want to expand too much too quickly, because if you lose your focus and your concentration in some areas, it gets too watered down. We had a meeting earlier today, as a matter of fact, with Operation CeaseFire, which is called Cure Violence now, and we're going to be continuing a project that we started in the 22nd District with them, and it's going to be going over to the 24th, 25th and 39th.
We try to target areas where we have the highest concentration of gun violence taking place, but we have to be very flexible because, you know, I can rattle off those four districts now. This time next year, we may be talking about the 12th or the 16th or some other, because you can have outbreaks of violence in different parts of the city depending, but right now those are the ones that we're looking at. But whatever we do, I want to maintain flexibility so that if our problem shifts, we can shift along with it.
M.Z.: Do any of the homicides from this year really stand out in your mind?
C.R.: I think if any of them stand out, they're the ones where you wind up with innocent people getting shot, and kids, smaller children. I can't think of any particular ones right now. I get my years mixed up and I get my murders mixed up sometimes. I remember the one that we had where the mother killed her two kids over in … that was in the Northeast, I believe, the 15th District. That was sad. That was very sad. To kill those kids, you know. There's no need for it. Those are the kinds of cases that bother me.
And sometimes, I mean, I don't remember these things because I try to forget them. You can't carry this stuff around with you. You just can't. You go to a lot of scenes, and my suggestion to you is that you don't carry them around with you. It's not healthy. You deal with them best you can, but you've got to not carry that stuff with you. And I went in the house and saw the victims and all that, and I hadn't thought about it again until you mentioned it, but I intentionally try not to, because it's hard. It's very hard. I've been doing this stuff a long time, and the reason I've been able to do it a long time is because I can compartmentalize this stuff. And ... I try not to let it build up on me. But when I see children that are seriously injured, killed, that 5-year-old just last week that got beaten to death and burned. You know, that's the kind of stuff that just, there's no need for. I can't understand what a person could possibly be thinking about to hurt a child.
Some things in life I've learned – you don't want to understand it, because if you understand it, you'd be part of the same problem, I guess. I don't want to understand that, you know? I want to be able to find them and get them off the street and see to it that they're appropriately punished by building a good case against them, but I don't want to understand. There is no rationale; there is no reasoning that could possibly give you an excuse to do something like that.
So all those kinds of cases, certainly you know losing [Officer Moses] Walker and [Officer Brian] Lorenzo this year was difficult, and we're just fortunate we didn't lose one last week with Officer [Michael] Gwynn. But, anyway, all life has value, and all these cases are important, and it's important to find the person responsible because nobody should be gunned down in the streets of our city or any other city, no matter what they do or what they're about, they should not be murdered.
M.Z.: [The case of] Zykia Sanders, a stray-bullet homicide, was cleared this morning. What would you say to family members in cases like that?
C.R.: That's good; I didn't realize that one was cleared today. But that's one, too … those are the kinds of cases where people just, they go out or maybe they're leaving a party or they're leaving an event or they're out in front of their house and catch a bullet because you've got two idiots shooting at each other, or whatever. People like to use the term "it brings closure." I don't know if anything could ever close a wound that's left after a family member's been murdered. I don't think you can ever close it. I think it gives you some relief that the person responsible is in jail, and if that is all that happens, then I'm glad for them, because it's some relief. But it's also going to be another period of time when they're going to have to go through it perhaps at trial and all that sort of thing, and these are things that are hard on a family and they should not have to go through all that, because they've got to relive it all over again. It doesn't give you a chance to really heal. But it should be some relief that this person's off the street, and if that's the case, then I'm glad. I'm glad for them.