By Chris Palmer, David Gambacorta and Anna Orso of the Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — Mayor Jim Kenney on Monday named Danielle Outlaw, the chief of police in Portland, Ore., as Philadelphia’s new police commissioner, marking a new chapter for a 6,500-member force plagued by scandal.
The appointment is a landmark decision for Kenney, who is just days away from beginning his second term, and it comes as the department continues to grapple with fallout from allegations made in lawsuits and news accounts that the department’s culture is marred by rampant sexual harassment, discrimination and racism.
Outlaw, 43, will be the first black woman to lead the city’s police force, and the second woman to take over as commissioner. She has led Portland’s 877-member force since 2018 after a 20-year career as an officer in her hometown of Oakland, Calif.
Her short tenure in Portland — one of the nation’s most liberal and whitest cities — did not pass without controversy, as some critics questioned her department’s handling of rallies and counterprotests, as well as a decision last summer to clear a protest camp that surrounded an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.
Still, in an emailed statement, Kenney said Outlaw was the right person to take on Philadelphia’s host of challenges — including persistent gun violence that continued to rise in 2019.
“I am convinced she has the conviction, courage and compassion needed to bring long-overdue reform to the Department,” Kenney said in the email. “After meeting and speaking with her at length, I came away confident that Danielle Outlaw possesses the strength, integrity and empathy vital to the tasks ahead.”
Outlaw, in the same statement, said that although she was new to Philadelphia, “I am not new to the challenges of big-city, 21st-century policing.”
“I will work relentlessly to reduce crime in Philadelphia — particularly the insidious gun violence that plagues too many communities,” Outlaw said. “And I will do so in a way that ensures all people are treated equitably regardless of their gender identity, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.”
Her appointment comes after a four-month search process largely cloaked in secrecy. Christine Coulter has been serving as acting commissioner since the abrupt resignation of former Commissioner Richard Ross in August, after a woman accused him in a lawsuit of retaliating against her for breaking off their affair — an allegation Ross has denied.
Stakeholders in the city’s criminal justice and political establishments reacted generally favorably to the news Monday.
“Most of us are very encouraged,” Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said of colleagues in City Hall. “They’re especially happy that she’s a woman — and happy of course that it’s an African American woman — but especially happy that she’s a woman.”
Rochelle Bilal, president of the Guardian Civic League, a black police officers’ organization, said in a statement that the group was disappointed Kenney did not appoint a woman of color from within the department, but that “we are committed to embracing (Outlaw) and ensuring her success here in the city of Philadelphia.”
John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said in a statement that the police officers’ union also was hoping an internal candidate would win the job, but that “we look forward to a professional, working partnership with Chief Outlaw that includes making our city safer for our residents and our (6,500-plus) police officers.”
Former Philadelphia Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey called Outlaw’s selection “a good choice.”
“She’s very bright, very talented,” said Ramsey, who first met Outlaw several years ago when he was president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “(The Police Department) is in a position now where an outsider will be a breath of fresh air.”
Outlaw took over in Portland in 2017, and she faced several controversies during her time leading the force.
Her department was criticized last year for using flash-bang devices and some chemical irritants during a right-wing rally and anti-fascist counterprotest, and she also made a decision last summer to clear a protest camp that surrounded an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.
This year, after a video showed right-wing activist Andy Ngo being punched by counterprotesters, Outlaw drew scorn from national figures including Donald Trump Jr. and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who claimed that her officers allowed violence against right-wing activists for political reasons. Portland’s mayor denied that assertion.
The Oregonian reported Monday that Outlaw told Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Friday about her impending departure, and that the mayor rejected her request to continue in the post through Jan. 1.
Kenney said Outlaw would begin in Philadelphia on Feb. 10.
Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, the local police union, said in an interview that he learned Monday morning from the Portland mayor’s police policy liaison that Outlaw was to be introduced as Philadelphia’s new commissioner.
“You’re getting a damn good chief,” Turner said. “We hate to lose her.”
Outlaw will inherit challenges. The lawsuit that prompted Ross’ resignation also claimed that the Police Department had been overrun by a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination — allegations that seemed to gain steam when one of Ross’ former high-ranking commanders, chief inspector Carl Holmes, was subsequently arrested and charged with sexually assaulting three female officers.
Ross’ departure came less than a week after he had helped negotiate the end to a violent standoff with a gunman in Tioga, who allegedly shot and wounded six cops during a botched drug raid.
Earlier in the summer, more than 300 active-duty cops were accused of posting racist or offensive material on their personal Facebook accounts, a scandal that included other jurisdictions around the country and attracted national attention. It led to the benching of 72 Philly officers and the forced departures of 15 — the department’s largest disciplinary action in recent memory.
After Ross stepped down, Coulter was named interim commissioner, the first woman to lead the department. But she soon had to apologize for a controversy of her own — a photo from the 1990s that surfaced showing her wearing a shirt that appeared to refer to the infamous Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King.
The tumult has come amid a backdrop of ongoing gun violence: More people have been shot in the city in 2019 than in any year since 2010, and the annual homicide tally has matched last year’s decade-long high.
Kenney’s search process was largely conducted behind closed doors, with key players in the city’s criminal justice system saying as recently as last week that they had been largely out of the loop on whom the mayor was considering to fill the post.
Outlaw has a sociology degree from the University of San Francisco and a master of business administration degree from Pepperdine University. She joined the Oakland Police Department just out of college.McClatchy-Tribune News Service