There was a time when Philadelphia police officers made almost weekly trips to West Philadelphia High School.
They were not social visits.
During the 2006-07 school year, cops were called to the school several times for locker fires, or fights in the halls, or threats against staffers. One teacher wound up with a broken jaw after a student punched him.
Yesterday, about 30 students from the school at 47th and Walnut streets went to the Police Administration Building at 8th and Race - but this trip was a cordial one.
The students spent an hour chatting it up with Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, asking him questions such as whether he wishes he was "on the street" as a patrol officer once again, or how he felt about the recent beatings of suspects by police caught on TV videotape.
And they asked him what it was like when he was 15 years old, growing up in Chicago, and if he'd ever had any bad experiences with police officers.
Ramsey had the students laughing when he said he had no desire to work on patrol again. "I like to go out on the streets," he said, but he's not ready to return to a street beat.
"I can't run down the alley at midnight chasing after guys," Ramsey told the teens. "I'm 58 years old. But I'm grateful for the young officers we have who do have to go out at 2 in the morning chasing people down alleys. I'm grateful for them and I appreciate them."
But at this point in his life, he said, his job as commissioner suits him just fine.
Ramsey said he was "highly disappointed" in the officers accused of beating three men after stopping their car shortly after a shooting. He said it was hard on the department because "we'd just had a police officer shot and killed, and then two days later we had this beating. It was very difficult."
As for when he was a teenager, Ramsey said, he was "lucky" and never had any contact with police officers. He told the students that his father had dreamed of being a police officer when he left the military after serving in World War II, but due to the color of his skin he wasn't accepted as an officer. "So he drove a bus for 30 years," the commissioner said.
Ramsey also told the students that the only other job he seriously dreamed of was to become a doctor. But after meeting a couple of police officers who regularly came into a store where he worked in Chicago, and learning that by joining the police department he could get tuition assistance for college, he decided to join the police force there.
The West Philadelphia students who met with Ramsey are all members of the school's Air Force Junior ROTC.
They are the first students in the 1,065-student population at West to take part in a special law-enforcement career program instituted by the Nu-Juice Foundation begun by West Philly alumnus Eric Ward and others.
During the program, which has been in operation for several months at the school, Nu-Juice has brought several speakers from various law-enforcement agencies to talk with students.
Ward said recent visitors have included former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, as well as representatives from the District Attorney's Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI.
West Principal Saliyah Cruz said students are benefiting from the program.
"The evidence shows that it means something to them, because they continue to come back every week," Cruz said. "It's an after-school activity, which means it's not for credit, and they don't have to be there if they don't want to." *