Behind the badge: Qualifications to lead the Trenton Police Department
By Rolando Ramos, Retired Trenton Police Lieutenant
Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of discussion about the Mayor’s pick for the position of Police Director. Questions abound about Carol Russell’s qualifications and whether she meets even the minimalist definition for the position according to the City’s ordinance. A number of assertions have been made in support of this choice and some that made me question my time as a Trenton Police Officer for the last twenty-six years and my personal experiences there. In retrospect, I found that these comments were in fact not true, but were utilized to attempt to justify this selection. The racist code language, “the good ole boy network” was quickly brought up as a reason why there is resistance to this pick. The belief being that because there are questions about her qualifications, it is to ensure that this ever present “white male leadership” remain in power. But the city of Trenton has had an African-American mayor for the last twenty-eight years, going from Mayor Douglas Palmer’s twenty years, to Mayor Tony Mack’s four years and Mayor Eric Jackson’s four years.
During that time period and starting from my entry onto the force in 1992, there has been one African-American Chief of Police, Erney Williams, and out of the seven permanent police directors since the change of police chief to police director in 1999, six out the seven were either African-American or Latino. They include Director Jim Golden, Director George Clisby, Director Joseph Santiago, Director Irv Bradley, Director Erney Williams, and Director Ralph Rivera. The only white director being Director Ernest Parrey. In addition, the only two that were home grown were Chief and Director Erney Williams and Director Ernest Parrey. Whatever the opinions of these individuals, the “good ole boy network” was not in play during these last nineteen years.
“Breaking the glass ceiling” was used to describe the notion that Ms. Russell’s nomination should be viewed with that in mind. A piece was actually written comparing this accomplishment with accomplishments of other great African-American and Latina women. The only problem I had with that article was that all of those great women achieved IN SPITE of their race and gender, not because of it. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for example graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and received her law degree from Yale University. Along with her many achievements is why President Obama nominated her for the Supreme Court and not because she was a Puerto Rican woman. Thats what it means to break the glass ceiling.
In addition, I disagree wholeheartedly by a comment that if the ordinance was followed, that there would never be an African-American or Latino officer from Trenton that would be able to meet that requirement. I will say this, if that is the belief, then the process has not gone far enough to identify qualified African-American or Latino candidates because there are quite a few who do meet that minimum requirement, in addition to expanded educational and professional advancements. If that comment was in defense of selecting an African-American woman, than thats a slap in the face to all of the African-American women police leaders across this country that have put themselves in position to actually be qualified for a position such as this. An example would be Cassandra Deck-Brown, a East Carolina University graduate, who rose to the rank of Deputy Chief in the Raleigh, North Carolina Police Department before being named Chief of Police in 2013, the first African-American woman to lead that department.
One comment that was made was this commonly used comment about the police when it comes to policing black communities, the “occupying force in our communities”. I was once asked why don’t the police do more investigations involving human trafficking or prostitution that has grown in the city. My response was that the “squeaky wheel gets the oil”. What I meant was that as an undermanned police department, all of our resources are in dealing with the violent crime that permeates this city. The violence stemming from the gangs, drug dealing and drug use that seems to grow in the poorer areas.
As police, we use the newest technology such as crime mapping, to track and attempt to prevent violent crime. But if you are a good cop, all this new technology only reinforces what should already know, the areas that are most likely to have issues.
Active cops go to those areas in an attempt to prevent the violence by targeting individuals that are known to be gang members, drug dealers, and most likely to carry weapons. This isn’t based on race or color but on hard facts and experience.
I am sure residents of Hiltonia, Villa Park, the Island and Glen Afton would love to see more police in their neighborhoods, especially in light of the fact that they pay the most property taxes in the city. To attempt to stem the violence, Officers must be in areas such as Walnut Ave., Styvesant Ave., Donnelly Homes, Spring St. and other similar areas. The goal is to minimize the violence to allow law abiding folks an opportunity to raise their kids in a safe environment.
Another assertion that was made was that Ms. Russell was a community policing advocate. Not knowing her philosophy or her plan to implement it, I would like to state that community policing is more than getting out of your police car and having a friendly chat with members of the community. Most politicians that use this phrase, “community policing” have no idea what it entails. It is more than walking posts, which is always the fallback when discussing community policing.
Community policing, in its purest form is a community partnership with the goal of identifying and preventing crime issues. It is not about the community and officers holding hands singing “Cumbaya” or about teddy bears and lollipops. Criminals don’t do that. Its about working with the community as a team to eliminate crime problems. How you get there has to include a well thought out plan of action and follow through.
Hopefully, I have brought some clarity into some of the assertions that have been made. I understand how people can be emotionally involved in such decisions and make unsupported claims. That is why going by specific articulable standards alleviates all of these attachments and allows judgements to be made based on specific facts.