Former Philly Police Chief: This could be a Rosa Parks 'moment' for policing reform

'I'm not anti-union but I think they have become far too powerful," says Charles Ramsey, former police chief in Philadelphia and D.C. "Very difficult" to get "rid of bad police officers." 

Updated: June 10, 2020 - 9:48pm

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Charles Ramsey, former Philadelphia and Washington D.C. police commissioner, on Wednesday compared the current "movement" for policing reform in the wake of George Floyd's death to the effect Rosa Parks had on civil rights in the country.

"These things have a ripple effect. This could be that moment as well; that some youngster right now that may be watching this or whatever they maybe doing. It will impact their ability to be able to seek any opportunity they want anywhere they want because of the sacrifices made by people today – the movement that has begun with this," Ramsey said during a Washington Post Live discussion on policing reform after Floyd's death. "So things can start with one movement."

Ramsey, co-chair of former President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, said it's "very difficult" to get rid of "bad police officers" due to union contracts and that unions are standing in the way of police reform.

"Union contracts can be the biggest obstacle to change there is," he said. "I'm not anti-union, but I do think they've become far too powerful in a lot of different ways, not just in terms of funding and, you know, double time and a half or this or that." 

Floyd died May 25 after being arrested by four Minneapolis police officers, including one who kneeled on his neck until he lost consciousness.

"When it comes to getting rid of bad police officers, it's very, very difficult," Ramsey continued. "We've been focusing on the criminal behavior that took place in Minneapolis, but the majority of misconduct that we deal with doesn't rise to a criminal level necessarily, but it's very difficult to discipline and get rid of a police officer."

Ramsey mentioned that the officer who kneeled on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes reportedly had 18 prior complaints filed against him. The officer has since been charged with murder.

"When you have people that consistently engage in misconduct, whether they're sworn or civilian, I mean, to me it's an indication the system is broken. And I would argue that the system of discipline in policing is broken. There's no question about it. There are too many cops that are on the job that should not be on the job and that is part of the problem," he said.

Ramsey was not directly asked for his assessment of the way police departments across the country are handling the police brutality protests happening in major cities.

Under Ramsey's tenure, the D.C. police department and the U.S. Park Police were sued by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund on behalf of nearly 400 protestors and a settlement of $8.25 million was reached eight years later. According to a report, the police were "encircled Pershing Park" and "refused to let anyone leave and then arrested and hog-tied peaceful demonstrators, tourists, passers-by and legal observers." Ramsey had said he didn't order the arrests.

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