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Ben Mannes: Rising crime is a referendum on identity politics

Skyrocketing violent crime rates from Philadelphia to Yeadon serve as an indictment of senior public safety appointments made through the lens of identity politics.

By Ariel Benjamin MannesPublished 2 months ago 7 min read
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On Nov. 20, 2022, FOX 29’s Steve Keeley reported that there were four homicides in just the last six weeks in the small Delaware County borough of Yeadon. As Keeley reported through his popular Twitter account, that was more homicides than the entire four-plus year tenure of Yeadon Borough’s former Police Chief, Anthony “Chachi” Paparo.

This is noteworthy because in February, Paparo was terminated by Yeadon’s Borough Council — an act Paparo alleges was done to replace him with an African American Police Chief, despite his having support from the Mayor, according to court filings in the federal discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Paparo and Lodge 27 of the Fraternal Order of Police in March.

Meanwhile, neighboring Philadelphia is facing another year of shocking violent crime. This comes three years after Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney proclaimed he would appoint an African American woman as police commissioner before a national search for the most qualified, experienced applicant was conducted. The result was the appointment of Danielle Outlaw, whose prior commands were as a Deputy Police Chief in Oakland and as Chief of the Portland Police Bureau. Oakland, which has 709 sworn members and Portland, with 795 sworn members, both saw an increase of crime during Outlaw’s tenure.

Philadelphia, with over 6,300 sworn members, is the nation’s fourth-largest police department, over nine times the size of Outlaw’s largest command. Since Kenney’s 2019 appointment of Outlaw, murders has shot up from 356 to 562 in 2021, with over 470 officially reported in 2022 so far, not counting over 103 “S-job” (suspicious deaths) which are likely to add to the official homicide tally at a later date.

One must wonder if Kenney’s decision to restrict his search for commissioner within narrow gender and racial characteristics was prudent considering the life-and-death implications of the job.

In both Yeadon and Philadelphia, the harsh reality of murder rates raises questions as to the accountability of those charged with public safety — from both law enforcement executives and the elected politicians who oversee their appointment and the fair administration of justice. Traditionally, the appointment of police chiefs and commissioners was completely in the discretion of the Mayor or County Executive. As crime was always a major issue for which politicians were held accountable, these elected leaders historically ranked political optics behind track records when making appointments in this regard.

Outlaw’s last boss, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, was quoted in a Philadelphia magazine piece on Outlaw saying, “This position is inherently political, not in a partisan manner, but in the sense that it is under public scrutiny and maintaining public trust is done in a political environment. You have good instincts and judgment already, but learning more about political history and relationships in Portland is important to being successful in the position in the long term.” Ironically, Outlaw only served for two years as Portland’s police chief before leaving for Philadelphia.

What’s more disturbing, as crime has emerged as a key issue in daily news coverage, is that there has been no public discussion of Outlaw’s effectiveness in her role, despite rising crime and scandals within her ranks.

Which brings us back to Yeadon. Last month, a federal judge denied the borough council’s motion to dismiss Paparo’s lawsuit against them. If the suit is successful, it will be one of the first to create case law on using identity politics, in this case race, to appoint and/or terminate a law enforcement executive. The suit alleges the four individual defendants decided that Yeadon is “a black town,” and that that representation should be reflected with a black chief of police.

The suit claims Johnson called Yeadon Police Detective Ferdie Ingram on the morning of Jan. 3 to offer him the job, but he declined. Ingram allegedly told Johnson he already had a police chief he supported. That support was also apparent in the community, the suit notes, with 1,100 people signing a Change.org petition aimed at keeping Paparo in the role. Paparo originally alleged four counts for violations of his equal employment and equal protection rights in a suit filed March 7, as well as a violation for failing to provide him with a fair and impartial due process hearing under the 14th Amendment.

He later added defamation, retaliation and false light claims following distribution of the flier titled “Ten Fast Facts Yeadon Residents Want to Know,” which he said was sent out to residents at taxpayer expense. The flier, attached as evidence to the amended complaint, notes that the same council members accused of racism in removing Paparo were actually the ones who hired him to begin with, over three other qualified black candidates. Yeadon Mayor Rohan Hepkins appeared on the Dom Giordano radio show on Nov. 21, 2022, as a defender of Chief Paparo, noting that he would like to see Council bring Paparo back in light of their recent spike in homicides.

There is nothing wrong with firsts, but with something as vital as assuring the public safety of a major American city, you also have to be the best.

The events leading up to Kenney’s appointment of Outlaw in 2019 present similar questions. Mere weeks after being heralded a hero in his handling of an hours-long hostage siege in where six police officers were shot, Richard Ross abruptly resigned as Philadelphia Police Commissioner. While the resignation came in the wake of a sexual harassment suit (Ross wasn’t the alleged harasser), sources within the Philadelphia Police Department noted friction between Ross and Kenney, specifically over Ross’ unwillingness to fire officers for a social media scandal in where no specific department protocols were violated, and differences over the use of the bully pulpit regarding District Attorney Larry Krasner’s radical charging and bail policies.

As an interim appointee, Kenney tapped Deputy Commissioner Christine Coulter as Police Commissioner. Coulter, a career Philadelphia police officer whose start patrolling the streets of Kensington was documented in a 1991 episode of the series “Cops,” was well regarded by the rank and file of the department. However, it was shortly in Coulter’s tenure that Kenney publicly declared his decision to hire an African American woman to lead the department, which narrowed a national field to only three clear choices — Outlaw, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, and Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall.

Shortly thereafter, Outlaw was appointed, leaving many to wonder if the choice had anything to do with both Hall and Best’s strong reputations for speaking truth to power over their elected managers, especially in response to politically based decisions over law enforcement and termination of officers.

Hopefully, the outcome of Chief Paparo’s lawsuit or simply through public scrutiny in the upcoming election year — we can help local politicians remember that public safety appointments are too vital for our society to make using identity politics.

Personally, growing up in New York through the “crack explosion,” I recall the historic appointment of Lee Brown. He was the first African American Police Chief in Houston, then became NYPD Commissioner, and then returned to Houston as their first black Mayor. There is nothing wrong with firsts, but with something as vital as assuring the public safety of a major American city, you also have to be the best.

This is why we have laws that govern race and gender discrimination in employment: because the hiring and firing of people based on race is not only hurtful for the employees in the organization, but may result in further victimization of an already at-risk community.

A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @PublicSafetySME

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Ariel Benjamin Mannes

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