Philadelphia's Mayor-Elect Picks New Police Chief

Jim Kenney announced Wednesday that First Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross is his choice to run the department.
by | November 12, 2015 AT 3:30 PM

By Claudia Vargas and Aubrey Whelan

Call it Ramsey 2.0: The Philadelphia Police Department will have new but familiar leadership come January.

First Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross, whom Mayor-elect Jim Kenney announced Wednesday as his choice to run the department, said he plans to keep doing what retiring Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has done -- "and then some."

"We've had a great commissioner, so I don't feel the need to act like we are going to start from ground zero because we're not," Ross said during a Wednesday news conference. "We are going to build on it."

Ross was the first cabinet choice Kenney has announced. He called the police commissioner the most important position in the city, after mayor. Kenney, who briefly introduced Ross during the Wednesday news conference, called him "a stellar law enforcement person... a stellar individual and a stellar Philadelphian."

There was nothing but praise for Ross, too, from every corner of the law enforcement community and beyond.

Leaders of the local chapters of the Fraternal Order of Police and the NAACP were both at the announcement Wednesday and praised the pick.

"Rich is going to step up to the front seat and its going to be a great working relationship and we're going to do a lot of good," John McNesby, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said.

"We're happy about this appointment," said Rodney Muhammad, president of the local NAACP. "It's important that our mayor-elect staff a good public safety team around the city. If we are going to make a world-class city, it has to be a world-class police force. . . and world-class relationship between the police and the community."

Ramsey, who was not at the announcement, said in an interview afterward that he feels good about leaving the department in "excellent hands."

"I think the mayor made an excellent choice, the very best choice he could have made," Ramsey said. "Rich Ross is going to be an excellent police commissioner. He knows his department, he loves the department, and he loves the city."

Ross, who won't take over until after Jan. 4, when Kenney is sworn in, didn't provide many specifics about what changes he might bring to the department.

"The only thing that will be different is the messaging. Making sure we train to that effect... and that we constantly hammer what the law is, and that we continue to message out properly what we will and will not tolerate," he said.

On the controversial police tactic known as stop-and-frisk, which Kenney has vowed to eliminate, Ross said only that the mayor-elect's transition committee on public safety would be discussing that in the weeks to come.

Ross, 51, is a 26-year veteran of the force and has served as a deputy under both Ramsey and his predecessor, Sylvester Johnson. He has long been spoken of as a candidate for the top job.

In his current position he oversees daily operations for 6,000 sworn and civilian personnel assigned to the Patrol Bureau, Special Investigations, Homeland Security and Domestic Preparedness, and State and Federal Task Forces.

He also has served as the commanding officer of homicide detectives, captain of the 14th Police District, and lieutenant of the Patrol Bureau at the 35th District.

Ross lives in the city's Fox Chase neighborhood with his wife and two children. He grew up in the Fern Rock section. After graduating from Central High School, he attended Pennsylvania State University, where he majored in labor and industrial relations. He also received a master's degree in criminal justice from St. Joseph's University.

A religious man who holds a black belt in karate, Ross is described by those who know him as an intense, thoughtful leader. They describe an old-school cop who has garnered respect from newer officers, even if he has less recent street-level experience than commanders such as Bethel and Sullivan with community policing -- the key to Ramsey's philosophy.

Noting he had worked closely with Ramsey, Ross said: "This is more about passing the baton. It's not about reinventing the wheel, it's about building upon it."

(c)2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer