Inquirer Editorial: Ramsey right to ask for a look at shootings

Charles Ramsey File
Charles Ramsey File
Posted: May 31, 2013

Call it what you want, but taking a closer look at the number of police shootings in Philadelphia makes sense.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey deserves praise for recognizing that. Too often, law enforcement officials become defensive at the mere suggestion that their department isn't right. That's never been the case with Ramsey. He has consistently insisted that his officers be held accountable, and that policy changes be made when warranted to make the force more professional.

Ramsey did bristle a bit when the federal inquiry he requested was described as an "investigation." The commissioner prefers to call it a study by the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services program.

Ramsey asked for the review after Philly.com reported that police killed or wounded 52 people in 2012, compared with 35 in 2011. As of Wednesday, there had been 19 police-involved shootings in the city this year, compared with 28 by the same date in 2012.

The Justice Department study is expected to take up to a year. A similar study when Ramsey was Washington's police chief is credited with contributing to a significant drop in police shootings in the nation's capital.

The goal should be to reduce unnecessary use of force by officers. According to recent reports, more than half the 375 to 500 people shot and killed by police nationwide each year have mental health problems. While officers in such confrontations often have no recourse but to use deadly force, that is not always the case. Better training and access to nonlethal weapons may make a difference.

Fraternal Order of Police local president John McNesby seems to have his mind made up that the increase in police shootings just proves that Philadelphia's officers are "outgunned, undermanned, and under-equipped." He cited the number of assault weapons police are encountering.

The proliferation of guns in this city may be an obvious factor in the number of shootings involving police. It would definitely do the city good if fewer criminals were armed. But the study Ramsey has requested can show what else needs to be done.

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