West News Wire: The mayor of Philadelphia announced Tuesday that Danielle Outlaw, the commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, will resign this month to help run a transit system in the New York metropolitan area, capping a tumultuous three years during which she oversaw one of the nation’s largest police forces through pandemic lockdowns, Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and ongoing racial and policing controversy.
Outlaw, the first Black woman to lead the 6,000-member department, took office just before the pandemic shutdown and had to supervise the safety of the city as violent protests over the murders of Black people by the police erupted in Philadelphia and across the nation in the summer of 2020.
Her resignation comes just a few months before the end of Mayor Jim Kenney’s tenure and as the rates of homicides and other crimes have become a major issue in the race to replace him. She will soon start a top security position with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Tensions between Philadelphia police and the public escalated after George Floyd’s killing in May 2020, when mostly peaceful protesters who shut down a major city expressway were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. The city council issued a statement calling the police response “brutal,” “excessive” and “unacceptable,” but Outlaw initially defended the strategy. The city later paid a $9.25 million settlement to hundreds of protesters.
Later that year, police came under rebuke again when a young Black man named Walter Wallace Jr., who had a history of mental illness and was brandishing a knife outside his home, was shot and killed within seconds of police arriving to the scene. Outlaw bemoaned the lack of mental health services while pledging the department would do better.
They again came to a head just last month when the department was forced to retract its initial claims that a man who was murdered by an officer after being stopped for erratic driving neither rushed at the officers with a knife nor got out of the car. For disobedience and other alleged policy violations in the August 14 death of Eddie Irizarry, Outlaw filed a motion to terminate the officer.
In a statement, Kenney praised Commissioner Outlaw for her dedication to bringing long-overdue change to the Department following years of racism and gender discrimination before her appointment. “Commissioner Outlaw has worked tirelessly for three and a half years during an unprecedented era in our city and a number of crisis situations,” Kenney said.
He has named First Deputy John M. Stanford Jr. as interim police commissioner. While campaigning, Democratic mayoral candidate Cherelle Parker has skirted questions over her plans for leadership at the police department.
Over the last few years, Philadelphia has seen a sharp increase in homicides, setting a modern-day record in 2021 with 562 homicides that year. Homicides declined slightly in 2022 and advocates have said they are on track to decrease further this year.
But even though Philadelphia was hardly alone among U.S. cities in experiencing a rise in homicides over that time, it has had a hard time combatting a Republican narrative of being a Democratic city with a progressive district attorney that is overrun with violence and danger.
Outlaw was also the target of a department-wide lawsuit alleging gender discrimination, which resulted in a $1 million federal judgement for two female officers who claimed they experienced a hostile work environment and were demoted after reporting sexual harassment.
Outlaw travelled from Portland, Oregon, to Philadelphia, where her handling of protesters had also drawn criticism.
Outlaw will serve as the port authority’s deputy chief security officer. The organisation also disclosed the formation of a new security and technology department, which will be in charge of monitoring security at all of the organization’s facilities.
The scrutiny on police funding, tactics and practices in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police officers contributed to more than half of the leaders in the Major Cities Chiefs Association a group comprised of the heads of the 79 largest departments in the U.S. and Canada to retire, resign or otherwise leave their posts in 2020 and 2021, including those in Dallas, Miami, Detroit and Boston.
“While there will be many Monday morning quarterbacks second guessing her performance and decision-making, I have nothing but a great deal of respect and admiration for the job that she has done for our city,” Parker, the presumptive favorite in the mayor’s race, said in a statement.