Conversations on Law Enforcement: An Evening with Charles H. Ramsey
National Law Enforcement Museum discussion examines former police commissioner’s perspectives on the past, present and future of American law enforcement
Washington, DC—Last evening, the National Law Enforcement Museum presented the 3rd installment of its Conversations on Law Enforcement discussion series, generously sponsored by Target®. Held at the U.S. Navy Memorial’s Burke Theatre, guests enjoyed a fascinating program with Charles H. Ramsey that detailed various perspectives of the recently retired Philadelphia (PA) Police Commissioner’s career, including his tenure serving as Washington, DC,’s Chief of Police, in addition to his prior work for the Chicago (IL) Police Department.
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Chairman and CEO Craig W. Floyd kicked off the event by welcoming about 160 guests in attendance. After a brief introduction, including the announcement that financing for the National Law Enforcement Museum had been secured and construction would commence this month, Mr. Floyd set the stage for a lively conversation covering a wide array of topics
Recently retired Philadelphia (PA) Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey (left) spoke about his career in law enforcement.
Commissioner Ramsey began by telling the audience about how he “accidentally became a police officer.” At the time, he was working in a grocery store in the Englewood area of South Chicago. Two officers who frequently helped close up shop asked if he was interested in becoming a police officer. Despite plans to become a doctor, something about the offer had an appeal, including the fact that his college tuition would be paid for. He signed up, became a cadet, and at that point knew that police work was his calling.
As the night progressed, Ramsey told stories about the challenging times for police officers in Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s. This included the biggest controversy for the department at the time – integrating police cars. He shared, “They called them salt and pepper cars.”
The Commissioner also talked about how his philosophies on policing have changed over the years. “When asked what my fundamental duty is as a police officer, I used to say, ‘to enforce the law.’ Now I say that it is to protect the constitutional rights of all people. Those are two very different things.” He also stressed the importance for officers “to strive to make every contact [with the public] as positive as possible,” and that the job really is ultimately about service. He shared his philosophy, “Treating people with respect and giving them some dignity. You can lock people up but you don’t have to disrespect them. Do your job, do it well, but never ever forget the circumstances and the fact that fate and circumstance are about the only things that separates us in life.”
Ramsey had similar responses when asked about his stance on Tasers while serving as Chief in Washington, DC, and his stance on the use of body cameras now, suggesting that proper training and a robust policy are absolutely necessary before issuing them widely among the ranks.
One of the biggest issues Ramsey hopes to see change for police departments moving forward is a greater focus on community policing balanced with the data-driven systems we are seeing now. Another important challenge to overcome is more investment in the mental health of officers around the country. Ramsey enthusiastically shared his support of the National Law Enforcement Museum being built, explaining how important it is for this country. “It captures the good, captures the bad, captures the real version of what police do. Without it, [telling the story] would be left to Hollywood.”
Finally, Mr. Floyd thanked Commissioner Ramsey for what he has done for the families of officers who have died in the line of duty, acknowledging those in attendance who came to see him for that very reason.The Museum’s Conversations on Law Enforcement program began in 2014 and aims to provide discussions on contemporary issues related to law enforcement. Past video recordings and photos from the events are available to view on the Museum's website.
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About the National Law Enforcement Museum
A project of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the 57,000-square-foot National Law Enforcement Museum will be located adjacent to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC’s Judiciary Square. The Museum will tell the story of American law enforcement through high-tech interactive exhibits, comprehensive collection of artifacts, extensive resources for research, and diverse educational programming. The Memorial Fund’s mission is to tell the story of American law enforcement and make it safer for those who serve. For more information about the National Law Enforcement Museum, visit www.LawEnforcementMuseum.org.