Let’s keep this just between us: Cherelle Parker will be the next mayor of Philadelphia. I know, I know; despite registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by 7 to 1, we’re supposed to go along with the fiction that we don’t already know the outcome of November’s election. Yes, Republican candidate David Oh is a credible candidate who has served honorably on City Council. But, for a city in crisis with an incumbent mayor who has largely checked out, we can’t afford to wait for leadership.
Of course, Parker ought to campaign these next five months, and she should debate Oh, because, after eight years of visionless leadership, we need a robust discussion about what the city will look like five years from now. And Parker needs that, too, in order to build a governing mandate. (Winning 33 percent of a 27 percent primary turnout does not a mandate make.)
That said, I’ve spent the weeks since Election Day talking to politicos and civic leaders, and the consensus is that Parker ought to begin her transition now. Her biggest challenge is to make Philadelphia believe in itself again; on the campaign trail, she showed swagger. Now it’s time to transfer that mojo to the city’s collective psyche. She can do that starting now, by speaking out on current issues — when I-95 collapses, we should hear from her on it, for example — and by starting the process of putting a team together that will convince Philadelphians that the days of minding the status quo are over.
Virtually every public opinion poll has shown that combating gun violence and crime is top of mind among those who have hired Cherelle Parker to serve them. So why not signal to them on day one that she’s on it?
So here’s the first of a string of modest proposals we’ll be putting forth before the soon-to-be new mayor: You’ll never have more political juice than on November 8, the morning after Election Day. Don’t wait till you raise your hand to God and get sworn in at the Academy of Music in the new year. Spend your political capital that day by putting a bold, new public safety team in place.
Of all the candidates who ran for mayor, Parker, as a Black woman and a proponent of hiring more police, is in a unique position to break from current police leadership. Yes, murder is down some 20 percent so far this year, and, yes, we don’t know just how much Commissioner Danielle Outlaw was hamstrung by Mayor Jim Kenney. (Upon her hiring, in a meeting with Councilmembers, Outlaw seemed open to declaring states of emergency in targeted hot spots, only to have Kenney’s aide veto the idea then and there).
But what’s clear is that, after three years on the job, Outlaw has seemed reluctant to lead. From someone who praised her policing plan, she seems the latest advertisement for the wisdom of that political philosopher from the 1980s, Mike Tyson: Everyone has a plan till they get hit in the mouth.
On day one of the Parker administration, the new Mayor can signal that it’s a new day in Philadelphia by doing three things: One, she can publicly state her allegiance to and cooperation with the Civic Coalition to Save Lives, the group of local leaders who hired David Muhammad, one of the nation’s preeminent experts in combating gun violence, to draw up a plan of action for Philadelphia centered around multi-agency cooperation and evidence-based programs like GVI, or Gun Violence Intervention. Having the mayor unambiguously on board and helping to coordinate such a targeted systems approach would indeed be unique for historically siloed Philadelphia.
Second, Parker could make two high-profile appointments. The first would be a new police commissioner— a rockstar hire would be a gamechanger for Philadelphia and set a “can-do” day one tone akin to Ed Rendell famously on his hands and knees cleaning a City Hall bathroom. Two potential candidates come immediately to mind.
One is former Seattle Commissioner Carmen Best, a public servant of impeccable integrity — she resigned in 2020 after Seattle’s Council, refusing to meet with her, slashed her budget. Best was a finalist for the top job in New York City under Eric Adams. (It was reported that Best took herself out of the running when she learned she’d report to a deputy mayor and not Adams himself. Adams subsequently denied the report.) It might be hard to pry Best away from her current cushy gig—she’s Director of Global Security Risk Operations at Microsoft — but her passion is reimagining policing for the 21st century, making it more just while making cities safer.
At the end of the month, Keechant Sewell, Adams’ police commissioner, will step down after only 18 months, and Best will no doubt again be a candidate for that job. Which means Parker ought to move fast. The shelf life for a top cop in New York has been two years of late. Parker, a terrific saleswoman, could put on a full-court press, pledging to always have Best’s back. She could start the pitch behind the scenes next week, with the understanding that it’s a 2024 start date.
Of all the candidates who ran for mayor, Parker, as a Black woman and a proponent of hiring more police, is in a unique position to break from current police leadership.
Another option before Parker would be to hire a reformer with preexisting credibility among the bulk of Philly’s rank and file. That would argue for the return of a legendary last name: Former Detective Michael J. Chitwood, Jr., currently Chief of Police in Volusia County, Florida. His father, of course, is the most decorated cop in Philly history and the former Upper Darby Superintendent. Junior, as featured in the Washington Post last month, has inherited the old man’s foxhole mentality. The Post piece — headlined The Florida Sheriff vs. the neo-Nazi “Scumbags”— is a master class in Philly cop:
As reports of hate propaganda surge to record highs, authorities across the country are torn over how to address rhetoric they fear could inspire violence. Some police departments have condemned the bigotry, sparking praise and criticism in a nation divided over where free speech ends and criminal intimidation begins. Others have declined to comment, aiming to minimize attention on white supremacist sentiments.
Chitwood has rejected this playbook he sees as flimsy and futile. His strategy? Go nuclear. Shame the organizers on the radio and television. Roast them on the internet. Keep at it for months. Keep going even though no one knows if it’s working.
“There is always the risk, yes, that you could give them more attention,” Chitwood said. “But if you expose them for what they are, I think the overwhelming majority of us will think, ‘wow, nobody wants to be like that.’”
This is the Chitwood playbook down in Daytona Beach — which he refers to as the “Redneck Riviera” — when neo-Nazis start threatening and harassing him and his parents:
He invited news crews to a PowerPoint presentation of their criminal histories, mug shots included, noting that one member of the group had been arrested in 2020 for soliciting sex online from a 14-year-old girl. Chitwood made plans to erect a billboard of another’s mug shot in his Georgia hometown.
We had Chitwood at our 2021 Ideas We Should Steal Festival, and, for all his tough guy bluster, like his father, he’s a reformer at heart. As our own Jessica Press chronicled in 2020, Chitwood came to reject the police “warrior mentality” he once embodied after going on a best practices tour to Scotland in 2015. He came back, cleaned house and signed his officers up for state-of-the-art training in de-escalation tactics:
“The [police] union’s screaming—He’s going to get cops killed! We’re warriors! You can’t do this, you can’t do that!” Chitwood recalls. He ignored his critics, and by the end of 2018, he and his whole department went through the training.
And 2019 was a watershed year: When you compare stats from 2016 and 2019, use of force dropped 50 percent. Arrests dropped by nearly 30 percent. Overall crime dropped 40 percent. And, most importantly, injuries against deputies dropped 50 percent.
“When you look at that, you have to say to the union, What’s your argument now? Do you need to be proficient with your firearms? Absolutely, 100 percent. But you also need to be proficient with all of the other tools you can use,” he says. “We’re on to something. We have to continue what we’re doing.”
Both Best and certainly Chitwood would qualify as cop’s cops who are also reformers. They’d arguabIy be embraced by a rank and file that Outlaw has had all sorts of problems reaching. But Parker need not stop there. She could also hire former Commissioner Charles Ramsey’s consultancy, 21st Century Policing Solutions, to help her and her hire put together the best possible plan — actionable, again, on day one.
What Parker ought to abandon is her distracting talk about “Constitutional stop and frisk” — a misnomer, because stop and frisk is constitutional. Instead, Parker should take a page from New York’s Adams and focus on a return to proactive, or Broken Windows, policing, as I wrote about last week. In the spring of last year, after a particularly bloody weekend, Adams called his brass in, read them the riot act, and brought back proactive policing — essentially policing small things before they become bigger. The result? A year later, shootings were down 31.4 percent.
Virtually every public opinion poll has shown that combating gun violence and crime is top of mind among those who have hired Cherelle Parker to serve them. So why not signal to them on day one that she’s on it? Consider this the Nuke LaLoosh postulate. He was the empty-headed flamethrower in the 80s classic film Bull Durham, who insisted on throwing his heater in order to “announce my presence with authority.” Sounds like good political advice.
What do you think the new mayor needs to get ready to launch on day one of her tenure? Submit your ideas for our series leading up to the November 2023 Mayoral Election
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Councilmember Cherelle Parker announces Philadelphia Neighborhood Safety and Community Policing Plan in March 2022. Photo courtesy of Philadelphia City Council.