Kevin Bethel, the School District of Philadelphia’s safety chief and a former longtime city police officer, will be Philadelphia’s next police commissioner, Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker announced Wednesday.
Former Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who interviewed candidates as part of Parker’s hiring process, promoted Bethel in 2008 from captain of South Philadelphia’s 17 Police District to deputy commissioner.
Following nearly three decades with the PPD, Bethel left in 2016, becoming a policy advisor at the Stoneleigh Foundation. He has been with the district since 2019, overseeing the school system’s safety apparatus amid an increase in homicides and shootings.
Bethel is known for his work with juvenile diversion, and he said at a news conference Wednesday that he is not going to “lock up a 10-year-old child for coming into school with a pair of scissors.”
“I’m a proud Philly cop,” he said. “But we’re not your enemy. We’re here to serve. We have our issues, and we can address them.”
Bethel said he wants John Stanford Jr., who has served as interim police commissioner since Danielle Outlaw’s resignation in September, to be a member of his leadership team.
Parker specifically asked candidates how they would handle issues in Kensington, and Bethel, speaking Wednesday, indicated that his approach would involve stronger enforcement.
“I understand the issues of addiction. I understand the need to have this holistic approach,” he said. “But I will not accept the fact that we allow our kids to be so traumatized. We allow our community to be so devalued. We allow ourselves to get to a place where we don’t care about the community. The community has told us what they want.”
Parker deflected a question about stop-and-frisk, which she refers to as “Terry stops,” the controversial tactic she touted during her campaign, saying she did not want “to be taken down that rabbit hole.”
“We will not take any legal, constitutional tool away from our police department or any stakeholders to make Philadelphia the safest big city in the nation,” Parker added.
After winning a crowded Democratic primary in May, Parker said she began collecting recommendations for the job, and, over the summer, she hosted informal interviews in her backyard.
“Every candidate, I’m proud to say, had one thing in common, and that was they had experience here in our great city of Philadelphia,” she said. “They knew our city.”
Outlaw had little-to-no experience in Philadelphia when she was hired in 2020, having served in police departments in Portland, Oregon, and Oakland, California.
Ramsey and former Police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr., who stepped down in 2019 in the aftermath of sexual harassment and retaliation allegations, interviewed candidates for Parker. Ramsey said the pair presented her with the three people they felt were best suited for the position.
“I can tell you from experience,” said Ramsey, who served as commissioner from 2008 to 2016. “Philly is not easy, and not everyone can handle Philly.”
Parker said she chose Bethel, at least in part, because he was the most knowledgeable about a public safety plan she unveiled as a City Council member, shortly before launching her mayoral run.
Roosevelt Poplar, who became president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 earlier this month, was called to the podium by Parker and said he has the “utmost respect” for Bethel. He also signaled support for the mayor-elect.
“I give her my word that I stand by her,” Poplar said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that I’m going to help her fulfill her vision.”
Parker defeated Republican David Oh in the Nov. 7 election and will succeed Mayor Jim Kenney in January.