Monday, May 18, 2020

Jeff Cole Interrogates Police Commissioner Outlaw

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

At today's virtual press briefing, reporter Jeff Cole of Fox 29 got a chance to ask Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw about the big rumor that's been sweeping her department.

"Commissioner Outlaw, Are you considering or will you take the police chief's job in Oakland, California," Cole asked.

"No and no," Outlaw replied definitively from her wood-paneled office with an American flag posted behind her. She was wearing her dress whites, a black tie, but had deep circles under her eyes.

"Have you contacted by that department in asking you to seek the job?" Cole followed up.

"No, not at all," she said. She said that the first time she heard the rumor that she was leaving Philadelphia to return to her native Oakland was at last Friday's press briefing. That's when city managing director Brian Abernathy threw Outlaw under the bus by saying he was not concerned about Outlaw leaving town "at this time."

The pugnacious Cole was just getting started asking tough questions about Outlaw's conspicuous lack of visibility, as well as her job performance so far. While Cole was going hard after Outlaw, the moderator of the briefing cut him off, and Mayor Jim Kenney felt the need to butt in, to defend a damsel in distress. "I think she's doing a good job and I hired her," Kenney stated.

But even with the ridiculous pandemic-induced limitations that have been placed on the beaten down local press corps by Mayor Kenney, Cole managed to get the job done. He also had Outlaw, who was basically protesting, Hey, I've only been here for "90 calendar days," backpedaling all the way.

On a daily show that usually features bombastic bureaucrats spewing sleep-inducing rhetoric and stats, for once, it made for riveting TV. [Cole's inquisition begins at 17:29 minutes into the 45-minute video, and resumes at the 37.43 mark.]

Because the mayor has declared a state of emergency, he's suspended the right-to-know law that allows reporters to seek documents. [My, how convenient. Kenney, no doubt, is wondering how to make the ban permanent.]

Live press conferences are a thing of the past. In their place, the city holds daily virtual press briefings where every media outlet is reduced to one representative, and every reporter has a limit of three questions.

The city handpicks the reporters who are allowed to participate in these virtual press conferences -- Big Trial is banned -- and the moderator "un-mutes" them one reporter at a time.

But all that B.S. didn't stop Jeff Cole from doing his job.

"Commissioner, do you believe that the 1.6  million citizen of Philadelphia deserve to see their police commissioner discussing the commissioner's policy toward crime on a fairly regular basis?" he asked. "And if you do, why haven't you done more of that?"

Outlaw usually doesn't participate in these briefings. But after the rumor mill began swirling, Fox 29 requested to have Outlaw attend today's briefing. She was apologetic and accommodating from the start.

"Absolutely, I think that's a fair question," she said. "Absolutely the citizens deserve to hear from me and they will hear from me soon as it relates to additional plans."

"I'm looking forward to not only allowing people to see me more but figuring out the best way to do this using the technology that we have," she said.

Cole was one question past that 3-question limit, but he just kept going.

"Commissioner, all you need to do is call a press conference and step in front of cameras and reporters and they will see you," Cole lectured Outlaw. "Why haven't you done more of that?"

"Again, Jeff, these are fair questions and I appreciate you asking them," she said. "You would see me on a daily basis if we were talking about terrorist threats or terrorist events or an active shooter incident."

"Again, I hear you," she said. And she conceded, "We can do more to be proactive about that."

Cole keeping firing: "Are you comfortable in this position? Do you think you are doing a good job?"

That was enough for the moderator who cut off Cole's microphone. Then the camera cut to a characteristically grumpy looking Kenney who gave his positive review of Outlaw's job performance, even thought nobody had asked.

Amazingly after Cole was cut off, all of the other timid wimps in the press corps didn't ask Outlaw one follow up questions. But Cole had plenty more when he came back for round two.

"On the issue of violence in the city," Cole began. Then he reminded the police commissioner that the last time reporters had seen Outlaw on Zoom, she said she had hoped "to get a handle on the rising homicide rate."

"I think we stand now at 140 homicides, up 15 percent from 2019," Cole said. "Do you believe you've gotten a handle on the homicide rate in the city of Philadelphia. Where are you on that."

"Yes, it's a lot bigger." she replied.

But then she left the murder rate behind, and said that she wanted to "circle back" to Cole's previous question, when he asked if she thought she was doing a good job as police commissioner.

"The answer is Yes," she said. "Considering that I've been here for little over 90 days in the middle of a pandemic and all the other things that come along with it."

Outlaw then lapsed into bureaucratic speak, talking about "strong emphasis on partnership and collaboration," and the need to "revamp my organizational structure" and "fill vacancies in leadership positions."

She talked about "the tactical piece, Operation Pinpoint," the crime-fighting strategy that involves mapping crime hotspots, and sending more cops there.

She talked about the need to "increase our pinpoint areas back to the numbers that we saw back  in 2008 when we knew the plan was impactful."

"We kind of let our foot off the gas  in December 2019," she said. She talked about "getting us out of our silos," whatever that meant, and insuring that there's more partnerships in coordinating overlaps with other law enforcement agencies at places such as the universities, PHA and SEPTA.

Meanwhile, gun violence in Philadelphia continues to escalate, thanks to a D.A. who gives just about every criminal caught with an illegal gun a free pass out of jail. Since last Thursday, there have been 40 shootings in the city. Today's latest victim was an 80-year-old.

But on the question of whether Commissioner Outlaw was doing a good job, the commissioner had her mind made up.

"So the answer is Yes," she said.

About a plan to combat gun violence, she said, "I think we have an idea of what we need to do and we've already begun that."

I'm looking forward," she said to introducing "accountability to ensure what we're putting in place is going to work."

Cole continued the inquisition.

"You think you are doing a good job here," he asked. "What do you think you've done well?"

Well she said, in the "three months that I've been there," she's been "making site visits, and really having the opportunity to hear from folks."

"I need to know what we have, what's working, what doesn't, what we have to tweak," she said. She's "had to do deep dives and all of that takes time."

"I've been making the rounds," she said, and that also takes time, "especially in a new place." And especially with a pandemic going on.

"Right now, we just have to adapt to this new way of being," she said. "We don't know when there's going to be an end."

About what she had done well, Outlaw stated that she was "really strengthening the framework that was already in place and identifying what needs to go."

"If nothing else, I've been able to bring to the table people that otherwise would not have been prior to my arrival," she said.

Cole's next question was about the "beat cops on the street facing the pandemic," and specifically, "Have they seen enough of you?"

"There's ways for them to see more," she said. "And obviously, we're going to have to use technology to do that. I am making my rounds," she said. "When I'm not in the office I'm out in the field. I'm pulling up on people's calls. I'm hitting the district offices just to get an idea of how things are going for them."

"But given that there's thousand of people who work here there's always going to be somebody who says I haven't seen her, I haven't heard from her. Regardless of how many emails I've pushed out, how many videos I've made."

"So again, there's always room for improvement," she said. "But it's going to take some time."

"I've been here for 90 calendar days and I'm new," she reminded Cole. "I''ve not had the opportunity to come through the ranks here."

"So It's going to take some time," she said one last time. "As does change of culture and change of systems."

And then it was over.

"We look forward to seeing you again soon," Cole said.

"Good," she replied.

4 comments

  1. Is the Commissioner jor a Police or a Civil service job ?

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is an appointed job. Deputies used to be civil service, but the city got rid of that to be able to get rid of people at their leisure.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This all of a continuation of the problems Outlaw had in Portland. Lack of visibility, questions about what she is actually doing, and coming off as completely out of touch. She couldn't even handle the job in Portland which is a fraction of the size, why did anyone think Outlaw would do a good job in Philly?

    ReplyDelete
  4. "I''ve not had the opportunity to come through the ranks here." That's part of the problem

    ReplyDelete

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