The Toughest Job In The City

As Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw prepares to leave Philadelphia, I can’t help but feel sorry for whomever takes her job in advance.

Because crime and gun violence was probably the most pressing issue in the May primary campaign, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, whether she wanted to be or not, became a pressing issue.

Since coming here in February 2020 from Portland, Oregon, Outlaw was put in what can only be considered a good news/bad news situation. The good news is, she made history by becoming the first Black woman to wear commissioner’s bars here in Philadelphia.

The bad news is, she got dumped into a situation where she had to deal with a gun violence problem that for some reason got worse during a period where we were all supposed to be on lockdown, police violence protests, and a police department that sometimes forgets to obey the laws it’s supposed to uphold.

(Notice I didn’t include having to deal with the Fraternal Order of Police in the bad news. That’s a given.)

She handled these situations with varying degrees of success. The crime and gun violence rates are going down, but the way she handled the George Floyd protests on the Vine Street Expressway — tear gassing folks is not a good look — weighed on her tenure.

So, the question folks kept getting asked on the campaign trail was whether or not she’d keep the commissioner’s job if they got elected.

On Monday, Outlaw made the decision for Democrat Cherelle Parker and Republican David Oh when she announced her resignation. She’s headed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to serve as Deputy Chief Security Officer. Her last day as Commissioner is Sept. 22

In a statement released on Monday, Outlaw said all the right things.

“It has been my honor and privilege to serve during Mayor Kenney’s administration and alongside each member of the Philadelphia Police Department,” Outlaw said. “The hard work, resilience, and professionalism of our force is truly commendable. Our team has shown incredible adaptability and has worked tirelessly to maintain our pillars of organizational excellence, crime prevention and reduction, and community engagement and inclusion even in the face of adversity. My staff’s teamwork, innovative thinking, and determination have kept the Department moving forward, and for that, I am extremely grateful.”

And if she’s honest with herself, she’s probably even more grateful that she’s no longer got to take the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune she’s had to take for 3 ½ years.

Being a police commissioner in a major city is tough under any circumstances. It’s even tougher when it’s a city like Philadelphia where everything, and I do mean everything, is political.

Outlaw came here at the request of activists who hoped she’d curb the department’s baser impulses following the George Floyd protests. She did what she could in that regard, but getting rid of bad police officers in a city where the President of the FOP is the most powerful person in the city is next to impossible.

Which is why I wonder why anyone would want the job. First Deputy John Stanford, a 22-year veteran of law enforcement, will serve as the interim commissioner, but will he want to keep it after seeing what Outlaw went through up close?

It’ll be interesting to see what criteria Parker or Oh will have for picking a new Police Commissioner.

It’ll be even more interesting to see who actually applies for the job.

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