"All over the world he's recognized as a practitioner and an educator," says Frances Hasselbein, head of the Frances Hasselbein Leadership Institute, which last week named Ramsey its Leader of the Future, one of dozens of awards he's received in his 40-year career. "We think he's very inspiring."
Recently, I saw why. During a rare sit-down Roundhouse interview, Ramsey was engaging and forthright, his opinions steeped in law-and-order principles but infused with a kind of down-home, South Side Chicago understanding of the everyday people his officers have vowed to serve and protect.
He's a lot like Officer Moses Walker that way.
Walker, 40 - by all accounts dutiful, kindhearted, devout - was murdered during a suspected robbery in August as he walked home after leaving his overnight shift. He was the seventh officer to die under Ramsey's watch.
"You never get used to it," said Ramsey, who spent the next day comforting the officer's family. "A cousin told me that all [Walker] wanted to do was serve God. . . . I wish I had more like him."
Ramsey enjoyed a 22 percent decrease in the homicide rate during his first two years here, before it spiked from 306 in 2010 to 324 last year. And with 274 homicides already this year, we could end up averaging a killing a day.
He cites a loss of officers - down 200 since 2008.
But mostly he points to the glut of illegal guns - and the lack of political will - as the biggest reason. While Ramsey doesn't support a total ban, he's for commonsense guidelines.
"An AK-47 - that's a military weapon. Why do you need it in private hands?" Ramsey asks. "You ain't going to go hunting with it. There ain't going to be much left to eat if you unload an AK-47 on a rabbit."
"If there was some new disease that took 9,000 lives every year, we'd do something about it."
But because the "disease" afflicts African American males - who more often than not are victim and shooter - we respond with silence.
'Where are we going?'
"I'll give you my police radio and let you listen to the descriptions," Ramsey offers. " Male black, male black, male black, male black. One after the other. All day long."
As a black man and father of a son, "it makes me feel bad," Ramsey admits. "It makes me feel like, 'Where are we going?' "
Ramsey grew up in one of Chicago's most violent South Side neighborhoods. Segregation forced working-class residents like his mother, Katherine, a nurse, and his father, Charles, a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver, to not only stay put in the community, but to help sustain it.
These days, he says, the shortage of neighborhood stewards - and the widening divide between rich and poor - creates a degenerative cycle.
"Black people are no more prone to violence than any other group of people," stresses the commissioner. "But when a community is left with folks who are in many cases unemployed, dealing drugs, doing this and that. . . . I would argue that it's more economic class than race. Put any group of people in the same environment and you're going to get the same result."
Which means whole communities living under a cloud of violence and grief, most of them grinding out a living as we all do every day, but with few options to escape the dysfunction that surrounds them.
Kids becoming stickup artists at 12, or home invaders at 9. Or worse, another murder statistic at 16.
The thought of it puts Ramsey on a slow burn.
"The Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world will be in Philadelphia tomorrow if a cop shoots some kid, especially if it's a white cop and black kids," Ramsey fumes, "but where is the outrage when you have black-on-black crime that goes on constantly in these neighborhoods?"
Ramsey notes that while hundreds of Philadelphians marched for justice for Florida teen Trayvon Martin, a West Philadelphia teen, Yasin Harvey, 16, was senselessly gunned down while walking to the store.
"Mistaken identity," Ramsey explains. "This kid ain't had nothing to do with anything. Good kid. Where's the march? He's one of ours.
"We need to stop cherry-picking our outrage. That's what we do; we cherry-pick our outrage."
Ramsey has pushed the department forward with rigorous officer training and is weeding out corrupt cops - more than 50 so far.
He doesn't just talk the talk. Case in point: His swift firing of Lt. Jonathan D. Josey 2d, the highway patrol officer who was caught on video sucker-punching a defenseless woman during the recent Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Ramsey is a big advocate of community policing. Rookie cops are required to be on street patrol for at least six months before he puts them in cruisers. "I want them to understand that there are decent, law-abiding citizens living in the worst of neighborhoods. And you ain't never going to know that driving through a neighborhood in a Crown Vic, with the windows up and the radio on."
"I don't have a time frame," he replies when I ask if he'll leave after Nutter's term.
"I've fallen in love with Philadelphia," the Mount Airy resident and aspiring gourmet cook says. "I like the fact that people get a little nuts about their sports teams. I like the fact that Philadelphians are willing to say whatever the hell is on their minds. . . . I know it's challenging, but that's what attracts me to it."
Contact Annette John-Hall
at 215-854-4986, Ajohnhall@phillynews.com, or
on Twitter @Annettejh.