Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has been selected as a special adviser to help oversee civil rights reforms in the troubled Chicago Police Department, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Sunday. The news comes as the police department has been embroiled in controversy over a series of incidents involving lethal use of force.
"Commissioner Ramsey is not only a national leader in urban policing who has led two major police departments [Philadelphia and Washington] through civil rights reforms — he is also a native Chicagoan who knows our police department and our communities,” Emanuel said. “With roots in Englewood [a violent South Side neighborhood], he has a unique understanding of the important role community relationships play in making our city safer.”
The announcement came amid community outrage at the shooting death 15 months ago of black teenager Laquan McDonald, who was hit 16 times. Dash cam video indicates McDonald was unarmed and heading away of police when he was gunned down. The officer who pulled the trigger, Jason Van Dyke, is facing murder charges, and his partner has been accused of lying about the incident. Release of the dash cam video, which was delayed for more than a year, prompted calls for the resignations of Emanuel and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Ramsey was expected to return to Chicago — where he lost a bid to become police superintendent in 1998 — to help advise the department on training and accountability when it comes to use of force, community policing and interactions with individuals who are mentally ill, a city statement said. Ramsey was a candidate for superintendent in 2011 but withdrew from that contest.
The U.S. Justice Department announced a review of the police department’s actions in December relating to the McDonald case. Emanuel, who initially said the move was misguided, reversed his position after key politicians, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, called for federal action.
"Chicago is at a defining moment, and I believe that Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department are committed to meet the challenge," Ramsey said in a statement. "The situation in Chicago is not unlike many in cities across the country, but the people of Chicago should know that their leaders are working hard to restore trust where it has been lost. Progress won't happen overnight, but a sustained and continued effort will put Chicago on a path forward."
With more than 30 years of experience, Ramsey served as Philadelphia’s police commissioner from 2007 to 2015. He was called upon by President Barack Obama to help better police-community ties nationwide.