By the time most Delaware Valley citizens were arriving at work following the Labor Day weekend holiday, the most predictable news in Philadelphia was finally official – Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw had resigned from her heading the nation’s fourth largest police department to become the Deputy Chief Security Officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
This morning, all members of the Philadelphia Police Department received the following email:
This morning, I will be announcing publicly that I will be leaving the Philadelphia Police Department to accept a new leadership position with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as Deputy Chief Security Officer. My last day as Police Commissioner will be September 22, 2023. Mayor Kenney will be announcing this morning that First Deputy John M. Stanford, Jr. will be appointed Interim Police Commissioner upon my departure. I have the utmost confidence in his experience, skills, and leadership abilities. I did not want to leave without stating that your hard work, resilience, and professionalism are truly commendable. You’ve shown incredible adaptability, working tirelessly to maintain our pillars of Organizational Excellence, Crime Prevention and Reduction, and Community Engagement and Inclusion even in the face of adversity. Your teamwork, innovative thinking, and determination have kept the Department moving forward, and for that, I am extremely grateful. It is not lost upon me that your efforts often go beyond the call of duty, and I want you to know that it does not go unnoticed. Your collective contributions have helped us weather storms and achieve milestones. Throughout my tenure, I have persistently strived to make certain we excel in areas where the needs of the Department and the community are not just met – but are exceeded. To meet specific goals, the Crime Prevention and Violence Reduction Action Plan was developed and shared with the public within the first three months after I was appointed, even as the pandemic was escalating into crisis mode. Thanks to your efforts, we have made significant progress in all three of our organizational pillars. Under the Plan, we have seen crime reductions, improved clearance rates, a reduction in complaints against police, new employee and wellness initiatives to include the development of an employee intervention system, improved diversity in hiring and promotions, better internal and external communications, and so much more. You will achieve even greater success together in the future. It has been my honor and privilege to serve alongside each of you as the leader of the Philadelphia Police Department. Although the history books have yet to be written, together we have proven that we are unbreakable, as we have endured the most challenging times in the chronicles of policing. With sincere gratitude for your unwavering dedication and outstanding service to all, DO Danielle M. Outlaw
Lame-duck Mayor Jim Kenney has appointed the department’s First Deputy, John Stanford, to serve as acting police commissioner, likely until the next Mayor is elected and appoints a permanent replacement. The Mayor also made a point to state that he did not ask for Outlaw’s resignation, despite a litany of scandals ranging from shockingly low manpower, to her termination of an officer for shooting an armed suspect before an investigation was completed, to the hordes of illegal dirtbikes and all-terrain vehicles taking over city streets with virtually no police presence.
“Commissioner Outlaw has worked relentlessly for three and a half years during an unprecedented era in our city and a number of crisis situations,” Kenney said in a statement, “and she deserves praise for her commitment to bring long-overdue reform to the Department after years of racism and gender discrimination prior to her appointment.”
Many within the criminal justice community, including ranking members of the PPD who texted me before I even requested comment, scoffed at Kenney’s claims of reform. They noted that the PPD was “far more diverse than either agency she previously served with” and that “morale has taken a dump under her [lack of] command”.
For those following the mayoral race, Outlaw’s departure was no surprise: rumors have been circulating about her possibly being fired before the election. That aside, Outlaw’s retention was a direct question in candidate forums and debates; with neither of the surviving candidates pledging to keep her if elected. Democratic primary winner Cherelle Parker wouldn’t answer. Republican mayoral candidate David Oh previously said he would seek a replacement.
This is no shock, considering the three highest murder rates in Philadelphia’s history were logged during Outlaw’s tenure and addressed with a word-salad of a “Crime Prevention and Violence Reduction Action Plan” that shunned nearly every proven policing tactic forged over the last 100 years. As violent, retail, and drug crime skyrocketed, Outlaw’s first and last official policies related to making officers appear less professional, creating orders to allow colored nail polish, beards without medical waivers, and false eye lashes for personnel in uniform.
Outlaw’s appointment will cast a pall over the Kenney legacy. Just days after her predecessor, Commissioner Richard Ross, was lauded for heroism following his nonviolent apprehension of a barricaded suspect who shot six officers in a North Philly rowhome, Kenney forced Ross out over a seemingly fabricated scandal over a third-party sexual harassment allegation in which Ross wasn’t named. Before a national search was conducted, Kenney had publicly stated that the next Police Commissioner “should be a black woman.” This narrowed Kenney’s field to only three urban police chiefs nationally. In February 2020, Outlaw was appointed.
Outlaw’s prior commands were as Police Chief in Portland, Oregon, and a Deputy Chief in Oakland, California, both of which involved less than a sixth of the force size and population of Philadelphia. Furthermore, Outlaw raised the ranks in Oakland from the role of Public Information Officer and had a track record for civil unrest in the previously quaint and peaceful city of Portland. Put simply, most Philadelphia insiders felt that Outlaw was way too green to lead the nation’s sixth largest police department.
Through the Covid-19 shutdown, crime skyrocketed when people were supposedly supposed to stay off the streets. Then, following the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis Police, Philadelphia experienced rioting, assaults, and looting in the summer of unrest to follow.
Commanding officers who spoke to Broad + Liberty credited poor morale and command authority to Outlaw’s lack of street experience, which when combined to the lax prosecution strategies of Larry Krasner’s tenure as District Attorney, directly correlated to homicides climbing from 353 to 499 in her first year, then to 562 and 516 officially reported murders in the years to follow. Furthermore, questions continue to linger regarding the validity of her department’s homicide statistics, prompting Broad + Liberty to create its own homicide tracker to hold the city accountable. Since the tracker’s creation, the gap in officially reported deaths has narrowed.
Despite these clear concerns, Outlaw has touted her anti-violence strategies. “Crime is down, clearance rates are up,” she said. “We have really good initiatives in place that focus on employee health and well-being. We’ve strengthened our communications with the community.”
While Outlaw claims that her resignation is on her terms, with the election of a new mayor and lack of answers about consistently high crime, the writing on the wall was clear. This is largely because the identity politics based talking points regarding Outlaw’s being the first woman of color to lead the Philadelphia Police Department fall short when people fear violent crime and businesses leave the city due to rising theft and quality of life crimes throughout the city.
Also of note is Outlaw’s new civilian role with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who has a fully accredited bi-state police agency. Again, Outlaw qualified her new role by saying “Quite frankly, I look forward to not being the face of everything.” Meanwhile, command sources contacted at the Port Authority Police and Port Authority Office of the Inspector General say they were not aware of Outlaw’s incoming appointment – noting that the command staff of the PAPD are normally former ranking members of the New York City Police Department, the nation’s largest and most diverse law enforcement agency.
Outlaw’s last day with the Philadelphia Police Department will be Sept. 22. As a Philadelphia taxpayer and resident, I hope that Stanford and his permanent replacement can put politics aside and right the ship here in Philadelphia – as public safety should be a mayoral appointment where what you’ve done matters far more than what you are.
A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @PublicSafetySME