Two months ago, Philadelphia's new mayor asked Philadelphia's new police commissioner where he would like to take the oath of office.

"I'm not that conventional," Jim Kenney told Richard Ross. They could skip a staid ceremony at City Hall, he said. Instead, Kenney asked, "Is there a place that's important to you?"

And so, on Tuesday afternoon, dozens of police officers and politicians and preachers piled into the seats in Central High School's auditorium. The school's entire graduating class filled in the seats behind them and gave a son of Central a standing ovation when he was sworn in as the city's 30th police commissioner.

Ross' ties to the school run deep. Three cousins attended alongside him there, and his daughter graduated from Central just three years ago. On Tuesday, he said his alma mater was a microcosm of the city he is now charged with protecting.

"People from all over the city, from all backgrounds, from all religions come together, and you see what this city is about," he said. "It's a city of neighborhoods."

It's a city, Ross said, that must work together as a national conversation on policing and police brutality continues, as his department undergoes necessary changes, and as crime across the city remains a persistent concern despite dramatic drops under his predecessor, Charles H. Ramsey.

"When we talk about some of the issues we will face, they're complex issues with no easy fixes," Ross said. "We need to be more responsive and more accountable to all our neighborhoods. And we can't be afraid to show people who we are and how we do things."

He told a story about a break-in at his house, just a few blocks from Central, when he was 9. How a neighbor warned his family that someone had broken in, and how the fathers on the block patrolled the neighborhood for hours together.

"Nobody broke into a house on that block for years and years to come," he said. "It speaks volumes for what you can do when you work together."

Introducing Ross, Kenney said his search for a new police commissioner was not a hard one.

"He instilled in me and instills in us a quiet confidence," he said.

Ross, like Kenney, is a lifelong Philadelphian, one who has worked his way up through the ranks of the Police Department and has long served as second in command. He speaks of his new position as a long-held dream finally realized. Indeed, in 2008, he told The Inquirer that "first and foremost," he wanted to be the city's police commissioner.

A 26-year veteran of the force, Ross, 51, was accompanied at the ceremony by his wife and two children, as well as his parents - and several residents of the block where he grew up, some of whom had patrolled the streets with his father on the night of the burglary so many years ago.

It was meaningful, he said, to see so many familiar faces in the crowd Tuesday.

After the ceremony, he was buoyant, snapping photos and shaking hands with a long line of well-wishers inside Central's auditorium.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Ross acknowledged some of the challenges he faces - but with tones of optimism. Witness intimidation may be a problem, but many Philadelphians help the police every day, he said.

The Fraternal Order of Police is fighting hard against some of the department's most dramatic changes - "but hopefully they'll see the greater good in this," he said.

Murders, especially drug-related killings, ticked up this year, and the homicide clearance rate dropped - but "the men and women in that unit work very hard each and every day," and will "keep pushing forward," he said.

And building community trust in the police may be a tall order - but, Ross said, it's what his department simply needs to do.

"You have to roll up your sleeves. You have to get to know the people who live and work here," he said. "And you have to mean what you say."

215-854-2961 @aubreyjwhelan