Ramsey outlines crime-fighting strategy

January 30, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
Hoping to reduce the number of murders by nearly 100 this year, the city's new police commissioner plans to use "stop and frisk" searches, install more public surveillance cameras and pour manpower into the most violent districts.

Commissioner Charles Ramsey, a former police chief in Washington, D.C., released his crime-fighting proposal Wednesday, three weeks after Mayor Michael Nutter first set his own ambitious benchmarks for a city that has seen a dramatic spike in gun violence and homicides.

Ramsey promises to shift more officers into the city's nine most crime-plagued neighborhoods and put 200 more officers on the streets through redeployment, overtime and new hires to the 6,500-member force. The mayor has not determined how much the effort will cost.

"There's nothing fancy about the plan," Ramsey said at a news conference with Nutter, who was inaugurated earlier this month.

"This isn't Batman and Robin suddenly coming out of a cave somewhere to solve all our problems."

The "stop and frisk" searches would focus on finding illegal guns in high-crime neighborhoods, Ramsey said. His plan also calls for installing more than 200 surveillance cameras this year.

In nearly a year on the campaign trail, Nutter pledged to reduce violent crime and the number of homicides. There were 406 slayings in 2006 and 392 in 2007, giving Philadelphia one of the highest homicide rates among large U.S. cities.

While the number of murders dropped slightly last year, Nutter drew gasps during his inaugural address when he set a goal of cutting murders by up to 50 percent within five years.

He did not back down from that Wednesday, noting that New York had 2,200 homicides a decade ago and has reduced that number to below 500.

"A city our size should be well under 200," Nutter said.

Nutter campaigned on the use of "stop-and-frisk" tactics to seize guns, a strategy that worries some civil rights groups but has proven successful at reducing crime in New York and other cities.

"Stop and frisk has been around for a long time," Ramsey said, adding that the department would be conducting more training on the tactic. "We want to do it and we want to do it appropriately."

But David A. Harris, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, cautioned that "stop and frisk" has potentially huge risks.

"You are effectively generating more confrontations," Harris said. "It's not a small thing to be put up against a wall and have someone feel through your clothing."

Harris said studies indicate that often fewer than 15 percent of searches yield something illegal, such as drugs, guns, or a suspect wanted on a warrant. But he added that they can be useful if used carefully with other crime-fighting tactics.

In his report, Ramsey also expressed concern about the increase in police shootings, as well as the number of times officers are being shot at by suspects. From 2005 to 2007, city police shot and killed 44 people and had guns pointed at them 145 times, he said.

Ramsey called those figures "very troubling" and said he would increase officer training on the use of force. But the department's policies, he said, are sound.

Earlier this month, Nutter declared a "crime emergency" and gave Ramsey a Jan. 30 deadline for developing a crime plan.

The commissioner, who was chief in Washington from 1998 to 2006, also said he would reorganize the police department's structure by March 31, put many of the most skilled officers in the toughest districts and consider re-establishing a mounted patrol unit, which would be funded entirely by private donations.

Philadelphia Police Department's Crime Fighting Strategy