The Philadelphia Tribune continues to support Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw following a tumultuous first year on the job.
Since coming to the city in February, Outlaw has faced several unprecedented issues that have caused some to challenge her response and others to call for her resignation.
The Tribune is not jumping on the bandwagon to run Outlaw out of town after only one year on the job.
Let’s be clear: Outlaw has made some serious mistakes.
She has received harsh and in some cases well-deserved criticism for her department and the city’s response to days of widespread protests against police brutality last summer in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
Outlaw has faced growing criticism and calls for her resignation after a scathing independent report harshly criticized her direct decision making. The report conducted by two independent firms and released by the city controller’s office in January faulted her and Mayor Jim Kenney for the heavy-handed police response to last year’s protests.
Critics have denounced the city’s use of tear gas and other less-than-lethal munitions during at least three incidents. In one instance, officers fired gas canisters and pepper spray pellets at protesters who had made their way onto Interstate 676, became trapped by SWAT and other police vehicles and tried clambering up a steep hill and over a fence to escape.
“There was simply not a blueprint for what our city faced this summer,” Outlaw said of the days of unrest over racial injustice that in some areas devolved into violence, destruction of city and police property and thefts.
In recent interviews, Outlaw said the police response to protests could have been handled better.
“That happened in the summer, several months ago. Almost in real time, there were a lot of lessons learned,” Outlaw said.
“We adapted, we adjusted, we were introspective and we implemented necessary changes. I think we’ve seen that what occurred over the summer hasn’t happened again. I think one of the biggest things we need to take away from this is that we adapted and we were willing to acknowledge where there were missteps.”
To be fair, Outlaw’s start on the job was far from ordinary.
Chaos erupted almost from the moment she was sworn in last February. Massive demonstrations that sometimes turned violent erupted, homicides spiked and the coronavirus pandemic made an already tough job that much more difficult.
Yet some have called for Outlaw to resign.
Outlaw says that she has no intention of resigning and added that the mayor had not asked her to resign.
It is interesting that many of the same news outlets and others calling for Outlaw to resign have not done so when it comes to the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Tom Farley, who has overseen a department that has badly mishandled the distribution of coronavirus vaccinations in the city. The health department had a relationship with PFC, a 9-month-old startup that became a city vaccine distributor despite its lack of health care or immunization experience.
Yet there are no growing calls for Farley to resign, only for Outlaw.
We agree with the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, which has expressed support for Outlaw citing the unprecedented nature of 2020. However, we agree with them that we would like to see some changes.
“We feel that one year is not sufficient time to address all of the problems in the Philadelphia Police Department, especially since there are two pandemics that Commissioner Outlaw has had to deal with during most of her first year: COVID-19 and violence,” Pastor Robert Collier said.
“Yes, we still support Commissioner Outlaw, although we acknowledge that there are some important changes that need to be made under her watch,” Collier said.
During a virtual town hall meeting this past week, members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., The Links Inc., the Urban League of Philadelphia and others backed Outlaw — the first African-American woman to hold the position.
The mayor should not leave it to others to publicly back his police commissioner. The mayor needs to be more outspoken in his support of Outlaw.
Outlaw has outlined a few changes her department is making, including adding personnel to the East Division to combat narcotics, a big driver of gun violence in the city. She also said that though violent crime is rising in cities nationwide, it’s still the job of local police to shift if what they’re doing is not working.
Outlaw should be given more time to implement her policies and to change the culture of the troubled 6,500-member police force. The Philadelphia Police Department has a long record of racism, sexism and police brutality. While recent police commissioners have made strides in changing the culture of the department, it is still in need of serious reforms. Outlaw should not be expected to fix the police department overnight.
The calls for Outlaw’s resignation are both unreasonable and unfair.