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DN Editorial: Ramsey & the policing guidelines

A good choice to lead the task force, will he be here to implement changes?

IT MIGHT BE tempting to consider Charles Ramsey's role as co-chairman of a presidential task force on policing ironic, given that the police force over which he presides has its own long and checkered past of problems.

Those problems range from individual causes - badly (and criminally) behaving police officers - to larger and lingering questions about policies and procedures in the department, especially around training and use of force.

But we think that Ramsey is the natural authority for leading this large-scale look at policing across the country. Since being appointed in 2008, he has been struggling to make changes in the city's Police Department, and knows how ingrained police cultures can be.

Also, we are betting that the report gives him added incentive to implement some of the recommendations in his own department. And Philadelphia needs those changes.

President Obama appointed the task force after fatal police shootings of unarmed men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York - events that ignited questions about racism, police tactics and authority. Those same questions have played out again and again in other cities, raising new questions about police tactics everywhere.

One of the key points the report makes is its focus on 21st-century policing. The upheavals and crises that policing - and its impact - has seen around the country are in many ways the signs of an outdated institution resisting change.

Our world is dramatically different than it was even 20 years ago, and not just because of technology, but because of new societal strains and stresses as populations and economies shift. As the report makes clear over 115 pages and 63 recommendations, policing requires changes both in mind-sets as well as individual policies.

Some of these recommended changes are big and some are small. Take, for example, one of the points in the report: that law-enforcement departments must stop requiring officers to issue "quotas" of tickets, citations and arrests, especially when moves like that are part of generating revenue. The drive for revenue muddies the concept of law enforcement and undermines community trust.

Other changes are more complex, such as shifting the mind-set from the police as militarized warriors to that of community guardians.

The report also calls for more transparency, and independent external investigations for fatal shootings and deaths involving police. It underscores the need for better data collection on instances of police shootings across the country, which right now is spotty at best. The recommendations also favor more civilian involvement and oversight.

This report is a comprehensive blueprint for bringing policing into the 21st century, and it will require a large national push from federal law-enforcement agencies as well as ground-level implementation at the local level.

For Philadelphia, the big question is how much Ramsey can get done; he could, after all, be gone when the city elects a new mayor next year. And he will also be busy reviewing a Department of Justice report on use of force in the Philadelphia department, which Ramsey requested. That report is due out on Friday.

If nothing else, the city's mayoral candidates should study the task-force report and use it to help define their own approach to law enforcement in the city, and help guide the selection for who replaces Ramsey when that time comes.