Challenges to Democracy: The Future of Policing


Thursday, February 5, 2015, 6:00pm


JFK Jr. Forum, Harvard Kennedy School, 79 JFK St., Cambridge, MA

Police carProfessor Phillip Goff, UCLA, Mayor Annise D. Parker, City of Houston, Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, Philadelphia Police Department, and Dean David Ellwood (Moderator)

Recent events in Ferguson, New York City, and across the nation have laid bare the high levels of distrust and tensions that define relations between police and citizens in many communities. These episodes of police violence, and the contentious responses that followed, have revealed an important divide in how different citizens engage with and are treated by police and criminal justice institutions – experiences that are quite often shaped by race. As a result, many citizens view police as a source of protection while others view it as a source of repression. This conversation will explore how communities might reconcile these divergent experiences in order to decide together what kind of police force they want, and what they view as the appropriate role of the police in their community. Together, the panel would provide solutions for how to build more democratic police forces that are seen as effective and legitimate by their communities.

About the Speakers

Charles H. Ramsey is the Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department. Prior to assuming that post in January 2008, he had served as Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPDC) from 1998 to early 2007. A native of Chicago, Illinois, he joined the Chicago Police Department as an 18-year-old cadet in 1968. After serving six years as a patrol officer, he was promoted to sergeant in 1977. He was appointed a lieutenant in 1984 and became captain in 1988. He served as Commander of the Narcotics Section from 1989 to 1992 before spending two years as a Deputy Chief of the police force’s Patrol Division. In 1994, he was appointed Deputy Superintendent. In 1998, he became the MPDC chief. During his tenure, he was involved in several high-profile cases as chief of police in Washington, D.C., such as the Chandra Levy murder investigation. He has also been in the spotlight since the September 11 attacks focused attention on security issues around Washington, D.C. Ramsey is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois.

Phillip Atiba Goff was born in Philadelphia, PA, and raised in the nearby suburbs. He concentrated in Afro-American Studies at Harvard University and studied Social Psychology at Stanford University before taking his first appointment at The Pennsylvania State University. While there, Dr. Goff created the Africana Research Center’s Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program and coordinated it for 2 years before leaving. His research has led him to become an expert in race, policing, and intersectional identity. In that capacity, Dr. Goff has been recruited as an equity researcher and consultant for police departments around the country, a role he continues to play enthusiastically. Later in his career, Dr. Goff hopes to teach a course on the intersections of Allen Iverson, Prince, and Sonia Sanchez.

Mayor Annise Parker is Houston’s 61st mayor and one of only two women to hold the City’s highest elected office. As the City’s chief executive officer, she is responsible for all aspects of the general management of the City and for enforcement of all laws and ordinances. The mayor’s tenure includes passage and implementation of Rebuild Houston, a pay-as-you-go comprehensive street and drainage improvement program that will provide jobs for Houstonians for years to come; voter approval of a $410 million public improvement bond program; creation of an independent organization to oversee the City’s crime lab operations; a unique sobering center for public intoxication cases; adoption of a long-term financial plan that ensures the stability of the City’s water department and reorganization of City departments to achieve cost savings and more efficient operations. She created a new City department focused on the needs of neighborhoods and the Office of Business Opportunity to help minority and women-owned small business enterprises compete for City contracts. Additionally, she won City Council approval of a Historic Preservation Ordinance that, for the first time, provides real protection for historic properties in City-designated historic districts and she issued one of the most comprehensive non-discrimination orders in the nation.

David T. Ellwood, the Scott M. Black Professor of Political Economy, has served as Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government since July 1, 2004. As Dean, Ellwood sets the strategic direction of the Kennedy School and leads its efforts to advance the public interest. Recognized as one of the nation’s leading scholars on poverty and welfare, Ellwood’s work has been credited with significantly influencing public policy in the United States and abroad. A labor economist who also specializes in family change, low pay and unemployment, his most recent research focuses on the changing structure of American families. Ellwood is the author of numerous books and articles, including Welfare Realities: From Rhetoric to Reform, co-authored with Mary Jo Bane. His book, Poor Support: Poverty in the American Family, was selected by the New York Times Book Review as one of the notable books of 1988 and by the Policy Studies Organization as the outstanding book of the year.

Suggested Readings:

The Challenge of Policing in a Democratic Society: A Personal Journey Toward Understanding, by Charles H Ramsey

America’s Lack of a Police Behavior Database is a Disgrace. That’s Why I’m Leading a Team to Build One, by Philip Atiba Goff

Taking On Racial Profiling With Data, NPR

Americans’ Deep Racial Divide on Trusting the Police, The Atlantic

War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing, ACLU

Staying Out of Sight: Concentrated Policing and Local Political Action, Vesla Weaver and Amy Lerman