DC Metro’s First Black Chief of Police
Washington, D.C., is home to over two dozen federal and local law enforcement agencies that have encountered many historic firsts and influential figures. One of these history-makers is the first Black chief of DC’s Metropolitan Police Department, Charles H. Ramsey.
Chief Charles Ramsey started his career in his hometown of Chicago like many law enforcement officers—as an 18-year-old cadet. He rose through the ranks in his nearly three decades with the department, and in 1994 was named deputy superintendent. In 1998, Ramsey left Chicago for Washington, D.C., where he was named chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
During his tenure in the nation’s capital, Ramsey saw a number of high-profile cases including the Chandra Levy murder investigation and the Beltway Sniper case, as well as the attacks on September 11, 2001, when he spoke out to focus attention on security issues in and around Washington, D.C. Ramsey’s eight-year tenure as chief of the MPD saw a nearly 40% decline in crime in Washington, and the expansion of community policing and traffic safety programs. Under Ramsey’s leadership, the MPD saw higher recruiting and hiring standards, as well as better training, equipment, facilities, and fleet. On December 28, 2006, Ramsey retired from the MPD, but he stayed with the department until January 2, 2007, in order to assist with security during the state funeral of former President Gerald Ford.
Commissioner Charles Ramsey (right) with President Barack Obama as co-chair of the President’s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing. Image source
Ramsey came out of retirement on November 15, 2007, when he was nominated by Philadelphia Mayor Elect Michael Nutter as the commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department. He was sworn in as commissioner on January 7, 2008. After Ramsey assumed his position as commissioner, the city’s homicide rate dropped 37 percent and violent crime 31 percent. In the city’s nine most-dangerous districts, which account for 65% of homicides and 75% of shootings, homicides were down by over 40 percent at the end of his term. In 2014, Ramsey was appointed by President Obama to serve as co-chair of the president’s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing; he has also served as president of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA). Chief Ramey officially retired from the Philadelphia Police Department on January 5, 2016. Today, he remains an active voice for law enforcement and judicial system reform, appearing as a regular contributor on CNN.
In 2016, The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund hosted an event titled “Conversations on Law Enforcement: An Evening with Charles H. Ramsey.” You can watch the program here.
Black Trailblazers in Blue is created in partnership between the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Black Police Association to celebrate the triumphs of African American leaders in Law Enforcement.