As the first African-American woman to head the Philadelphia Police Department, Danielle Outlaw says she “brings a very unique perspective to this role.”
The mother of two sons and a law enforcement veteran of more than two decades, Outlaw said she understood both the fear and suspicions that communities associate with the badge, and the rationale behind police policies and procedures.
Outlaw said she would bridge those gaps and build trust.
“I understand the mistrust. I understand also, on the other side, why we do what we do in law enforcement,” she said, adding: “If I have to be that conduit, I’ll be that conduit, but I think it’s important for me to explain perspectives on all sides.”
On Monday, Mayor Jim Kenney tapped Outlaw to lead the 6,500-member Philadelphia Police Department, ending a months-long national search.
The appointment comes days before the start of his second term and in the midst of contract negotiations for a new police contract. The union’s current contract ends in June 2020.
Outlaw will take over the force on Feb. 10 with a salary of $285,000.
While standing inside the Mayor’s Reception Room inside City Hall among officials, elected representatives and others, Kenney said Outlaw has been tasked with reforming the troubled department, which has struggled to address racism in the ranks, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment and assault.
The mayor said he brought in an outsider because “it was time for an outside, fresh look.”
“On occasion you need some outside eyes and some different experience to get to the bottom of things,” Kenney said.
Outlaw said she will address the department’s ongoing issues regarding police misconduct and discrimination by clearly defining policies.
“There has to be clear policy, there has to be follow up, there has to be consistency and accountability around those issues,” she said.
Acting Commissioner Christine Coulter will lead the department until Outlaw takes over. Kenney appointed Coulter in August following the unexpected resignation of Commissioner Richard Ross.
Outlaw spent the last two years leading the Portland Police Department in Oregon, a force of about 1,000 in a mid-sized city with where only about 6% of the residents are Black. She was the first African American woman to hold the position of chief of police.
Prior to her stint in Portland, Outlaw spent nearly 20 years climbing the ranks of the Oakland Police Department, where she rose to deputy chief of police. Her other assignments included patrol, criminal investigation, and internal affairs.
Outlaw earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Business Administration from Pepperdine University. She also is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police Human and Civil Rights Committee, and the National Organization of Black Law Executives.
Black leaders in Portland had mixed reactions to Outlaw’s tenure.
The Rev. E.D. Mondainé, president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP, said Outlaw “stirred up the pot” by demanding more police accountability, and networked with the African American and minority communities to build their trust in the department.
“She really helped make some great strides,” Mondainé said. “We’re on a winning edge because of where she helped bring us to.”
Nkenge Harmon Johnson, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Portland, said in an email Outlaw’s tenure was not marked with progress.
“I cannot say that local residents have experienced improved public safety, nor that the department is very different than before Chief Outlaw’s tenure,” she said.
Harmon Johnson said the Portland police department still had a “long way to go” to institute civil rights reforms that were part of a U.S. Department of Justice settlement, and multiple people were killed by police officers under Outlaw’s leadership, including those unarmed or experiencing mental illness.
One of 30 candidates
The Kenney administration used Police Executive Research Forum, a police research and policy organization that also specializes in executive police searches, to search and interview candidates.
The national search was shrouded in secrecy until Monday. Kenney and Abernathy said the lack of transparency was to protect applicants and the administration won’t release the names of all the applicants for the same reason.
“We felt that it was appropriate to keep it, not secret, but private so that people could have a chance to apply for the job and not create employment issues or difficulties back in their own department,” the mayor said.
Kenney considered more than 30 candidates for the top job, including 18 from within the department.
A screening panel considered applicants, who were recommended to an interview panel. A panel that included Kenney and Brian Abernathy, the city’s managing director, considered a list of three final candidates.
Outlaw stood out among the candidates for her directness and forthrightness during the interviewing process, Abernathy said.
“We threw her some curve balls and she hit them all out of the park,” he said.
The last commissioners to come from outside the department were Charles Ramsey, who served between 2008 and 2015, and John Timoney, who served between 1998 and 2001.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 President John McNesby and Guardian Civic League President Rochelle Bilal both said they had hoped Kenney would choose an insider for the top job, but congratulated Outlaw on her new role.
McNesby said the union looks forward to a “professional, working partnership with Chief Outlaw.”
Outlaw met with McNesby before the news conference. She described the meeting as a “high-level introduction” that avoided issues related to the union’s contract negotiations.
Solomon Jones, who heads the Rally for Justice Coalition made up of civil rights groups, said at the news conference that he was impressed with and supported Outlaw.
The Rally for Justice Coalition long advocated for a Black woman to lead to the department.
“Now we have to support her to make sure that there is communication between the community and police department to rebuild the trust that’s been lost over the year,” said Solomon, who also is a WURD radio host.
Bilal Qayyum, a long-time community activist and member of Kenney’s Police Advisory Commission, supported Outlaw, too, saying the city needed an outsider free of internal influences to reform the department.
“If the mayor really gives the power, she can make a change,” Qayyum said.
Problems in the police department
Outlaw will take over a troubled department buffeted by a year controversies and two commissioners who appeared to embody the department’s deeply ingrained culture that allows sexual and racial harassment, among other issues, to go unchecked.
After Kenney tapped her for the job, a photo surfaced of Coulter wearing a T-shirt that appeared to mock the brutal beating of Rodney King. The revelation led a City Councilwoman to call for Coulter’s resignation.
Coulter recently promoted three officers accused of misconduct. One was investigated by federal authorities about a decade ago for lying about evidence on warrants, and stealing from corner stores and sexually assaulting two women during raids of those stores. Coulter had the discretion to pass over the officers.
Ross, who took the helm of the department in 2016 after Kenney was elected to his first term, handed in his resignation after two Black female Philadelphia police officers filed a lawsuit that alleged he and other department leaders failed to address their complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination.
The lawsuit claims Ross had a love affair with one of those officers, which he has denied. Coulter also is named in the lawsuit.
Earlier this year, a bombshell report called the Plain View Project exposed more than 320 Philadelphia officers who apparently made racist, sexist, violent or otherwise offensive posts on social media.
The Plain View Project’s online database showed thousands of posts made by the officers; four were fired and 11 more resigned before they could get thrown off the force, while another 148 officers faced other undisclosed disciplinary actions.
In October, District Attorney Larry Krasner charged longtime police chief inspector Carl Holmes with sexually assaulting three female police officers. Krasner said Holmes used his rank — first at the police academy, later elsewhere in the department — to present himself as a mentor to young female cops and then took advantage of them.