Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has reassigned the 135-officer Narcotics Strike Force to more general crime-fighting duties, a prelude to a departmental reorganization that he and Mayor Nutter plan to present tomorrow.
Calling the department "overspecialized," Ramsey said his aim was to put more of the department's 6,600 officers on patrol duty or in more flexible assignments to increase the department's visibility.
"It's easy to get overspecialized," Ramsey said in an interview yesterday. "What is happening over time is that guys get that mentality, 'I'm working just on narcotics,' when all this other stuff is going on."
Ramsey, the former Washington police chief who became Nutter's commissioner in January, said the department was "overdue" for a reorganization to reflect the shrinkage in the force over the last 15 years.
"We only have 6,600 sworn members," he said. "At one time we had 8,000. We need every single person we can out there, fighting crime, getting bad guys off the street, getting guns off the street."
The reorganization has been in the works for several months, as Ramsey reviewed the department and met with unit commanders to vet their performance.
Likely to be addressed tomorrow is that Ramsey has fulfilled a promise he made in January when he said that 200 more officers would be on patrol duty by May 1.
Among those 200 are 109 rookie officers who graduated last month from the Police Academy, and 50 officers whom Ramsey reassigned from a special investigative unit.
Ramsey was circumspect about how extensive his reorganization would be, downplaying media reports that it would be a massive restructuring of top commanders and units.
"It may be disappointing to you," he said. "A lot of people thought my crime plan was going to be something, but it's very fundamental: Back to basics, and more uniformed patrols."
He said the reassignment of the members of the narcotics force did not mean the department was downplaying drug investigations. Several hundred undercover officers will remain assigned to the Narcotics Field Unit, which concentrates on mid- and long-term drug investigations. And each of the 23 police districts has narcotics enforcement teams and tactical units known as "five squads" that work on drug cases.
The strike force now will work under the Patrol Division, headed by Chief Inspector Anthony DiLacqua, and will be assigned to work on a broader range of crimes, including property crimes. Burglaries and thefts from automobiles are the only categories of crime that have increased this year.
"Now, narcotics is important, it drives a lot of crime, but it's not the only problem we have," Ramsey said. "So I moved the unit in its entirety. I didn't break it up. I need them to work robberies, need them to work burglaries. I need them to get some guns off the street. . . . I need them to get a variety of things."
The former narcotics force commander, Chief Inspector William Blackburn, has been made acting chief of detectives with the departure of Chief Inspector Keith Sadler, who left the department last week to become chief of the Lancaster Police Department.
Inspector Aaron Horne, formerly Blackburn's deputy, will take command of the narcotics unit, Ramsey said.
More changes may be in store among the department's upper echelon. With voters' approval last week of a change in the city's Home Rule Charter, Ramsey can appoint up to 10 deputy commissioners, including four from outside the city. He now has four deputies, the only executives in the department exempt from Civil Service regulations.
Though violent crime is down this year - homicides are down about 22 percent from last year - Ramsey expressed concern about the uptick in homicides over the last three weekends. He said that other cities also had recent increases in homicides and that the rise was baffling.
"A lot of these, from what we're gathering, are just arguments," he said.
Ramsey said detectives were trying to discern patterns in the violence and determine whether police needed to change tactics.
"You try to break them down the best you can and figure out what's going on," he said. "But it's just violence, violence in general, from what I see now. Some of these are just bad."