Dawkins, Rhynhart, Clarke, McNesby react to resignation of Police Commissioner Ross

A number of public officials have issued statements following the abrupt resignation of Police Commissioner Richard Ross, of Fox Chase.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross speaks Nov. 7 at a town hall meeting at Politz Hebrew Academy. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

Mayor Jim Kenney accepted the resignation.

“New allegations of sexual harassment as well as gender and racial discrimination among the rank and file have recently been brought to my attention. While those allegations do not accuse Commissioner Ross of harassment, I do ultimately believe his resignation is in the best interest of the department,” Kenney said Tuesday.

Ross resigned following the filing of a lawsuit alleging that he and others ignored complaints of sexual harassment by a corporal and officer, both women.

Last summer, the city implemented a new sexual harassment prevention policy and a series of internal reforms designed to prevent workplace discrimination and harassment throughout the government.

“While rolling out a new policy understandably takes time, I do not believe the Police Department has taken the necessary actions to address the underlying cultural issues that too often negatively impact women — especially women of color. I will be enlisting the help of an independent firm to investigate the recent allegations and to make recommendations to overcome some of the discrimination and harassment within the department,” Kenney said.

Kenney named Deputy Commissioner Christine Coulter as acting commissioner as a search for a permanent commissioner is launched.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 president John McNesby said, “We are saddened to learn of Commissioner Ross’s sudden resignation. Commissioner Ross has served the rank-and-file officers and the residents of this city with honor and respect over his three-decade tenure with the department. The commissioner has served in every rank of the department and is a shining example that hard work and dedication can lead you to the top of your profession. We will miss his passion and guidance for this great police department.”

City Council President Darrell Clarke said, “I am deeply saddened by the news of Police Commissioner Ross’ resignation. I have known and worked closely with Commissioner Ross for decades. Rich Ross is an excellent officer and commander of our city’s police force – most recently shown in his handling of last week’s crisis in North Philadelphia, where he helped negotiate the surrender of the gunman charged with shooting six officers and subjecting a whole neighborhood to trauma. That said, it is very troubling to learn of allegations of sexual harassment and gender and racial discrimination within the department. We must have zero tolerance for harassment or discrimination of any kind within the police department and any city agency. That policy must apply to every city employee, supervisor and leader at all levels of city government.”

City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart released the following statement:

“The reports regarding Richard Ross’s resignation from the Police Department paint a concerning picture of issues we know to be deeply ingrained cultural problems in the City, and specifically within the Police Department. While there are many questions yet to be answered, the issues of sexual misconduct have been well known and reported on for years: a commander is still on the force despite a $1.25 million payout of taxpayer dollars in a case against him for sexual assault of a subordinate officer, and within the last year, a commander accused of sexual harassment by at least four female officers and a member of the public was promoted to oversee the Special Victims Unit. Failures in reporting, investigating and administering discipline are why my office conducted an audit of the City’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures last year and made recommendations to the Kenney administration for how to improve the process moving forward. If Mayor Kenney and his administration are serious about changing the culture, we need to deal with these specific cases as well as look to citywide reforms on how sexual misconduct allegations are handled. One of the most important recommendations from my audit – full centralization of the reporting process – has not been implemented. A centralized process would mean that a single office, independent from all other departments, would be charged with accepting and documenting sexual misconduct allegations, investigating those allegations, compiling a report with a finding about the claim and ensuring appropriate discipline was administered. This is still what the City needs to do to ensure that victims are heard, perpetrators are dealt with appropriately and superiors take action to protect their subordinates and are held accountable when they don’t. My office will continue to push for these much-needed reforms.”

State Rep. Jason Dawkins (D-179th dist.), chairman of the Philadelphia delegation in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and delegation members thanked Ross for his nearly 30 years of service to the city in law enforcement.

“It has been an esteemed honor to stand beside Commissioner Ross in our efforts to improve the lives of all Philadelphians, especially to combat the increasing gun violence in the city,” Dawkins said. “Members of the delegation thank him for his nearly three decades of dedicated service to the city of Philadelphia. However, we are disheartened to hear of the new accusations against the police force. As members of the House of Representatives, we take any charge of sexual harassment, gender or racial discrimination very seriously. We trust that new leadership within the Philadelphia Police Department, presently under acting Commissioner Christine M. Coulter, will continue to work to overcome any issues of discrimination or harassment existing within the department.” ••