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Obama taps Ramsey for policing task force

Philly's top cop will head effort exploring ways to build trust between citizens and police.

PRESIDENT OBAMA has tapped Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to co-chair a "Task Force on 21st Century Policing."

Ramsey and Mayor Nutter were with a large delegation of civil-rights leaders and big-city mayors and police chiefs at the White House yesterday to discuss strengthening the relationship between police departments and civilians in the wake of unrest triggered by a grand jury's decision last week not to indict a Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot an unarmed teen in August.

Ramsey said he was "surprised but very honored" when he got a call from the White House last week asking if he would lead the task force along with Laurie Robinson, a professor at George Mason University and a former assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs.

Once Obama signs an executive order creating the task force, the team will have 90 days to compile a report with recommendations on how to improve the bond between cops and communities.

"So this is not going to be an endless report that we're going to have collecting dust on the shelf," Obama said following the White House meeting.

"My expectation is concrete recommendations that we can begin to operationalize over the federal, state and local levels."

Ramsey said last night that he considered the effort to be "long overdue."

"I really do believe we can make significant change in the areas that need it, and lasting change so that we don't have these kinds of tensions and controversies," he told the Daily News.

"Everyone in every community is entitled to fair and impartial policing."

Obama said that Robinson and Ramsey - who also heads the Police Executive Research Forum and the Major Cities Chiefs Association - are "two folks who are respected by activists and respected by law enforcement."

That sentiment wasn't shared by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, an organization focused on defense of human and civil rights.

Carl Messineo, the organization's legal director, said in a statement that Ramsey is "synonymous with militarized and repressive policing. If this task force is under his command, it does not stand a chance of substantially changing the status quo."

The organization said that Ramsey had cost Washington, D.C., "millions of dollars for civil-rights violations" when he was police chief there from 1998 to 2007.

Ramsey noted that the Philadelphia Police Department is embarking on a six-month pilot program to outfit cops with body cameras, with the ultimate goal to buy 3,500 to 4,000 cameras for the force.

The department has driven down its previously high rate of police-involved shootings, he said, and is awaiting an updated draft of a Justice Department report on the Police Department's use-of-force policies.

The commissioner said he did not think his work on the task force would interfere with his day-to-day responsibilities in Philly.

At a news conference later in the evening at the Police Administration Building, Ramsey said the task force's meetings would produce real change.

"There is a sense of urgency here," he said. "This isn't a matter of just sitting around and talking. If it was, I wouldn't be wasting my time.

"Everybody in the room [at the White House] . . . was serious about the task ahead."

- Staff writer Vinny Vella

contributed to this report.