Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel spent about an hour today in the offices of Philly.com, answering questions in theirfirst online chat here. Judging by the overwhelming turnout by readers, this was long overdue.
A total of 1,034 people participated in the Q &A, far more than Philly.com producers typically expect for a non-sports online chat. More than 350 comments and questions were posted for the commissioner, which meant there wasn't time to get to them all, so Ramsey tried to answer the questions that the most people were asking.
Most of the discussion revolved around Philadelphia's problems with teenage violence, which have led to beefed-up patrols in Center City and a 9 p.m. weekend curfew for minors in some parts of the city. Many people wanted to know if Ramsey felt the city was safe for families and children. The commissioner replied, "You'll find there will be a visible police presence, we'll have officers on foot, bicycle, on horse, plainclothes officers. It will be a beautiful weekend, come and visit Philly." Others asked how long the curfew and extra patrols would be in place, to which Ramsey said, "We'll reevaluate in two weeks."
Ramsey and Bethel also addressed a question that many readers have posed to myself and my Inquirer colleagues: Can these random teen attacks, many of which have been perpetrated by black youths, be considered hate crimes?
Bethel's answer: "We have looked at the cases to see if charges for ethnic intimidation would apply. We have discussed this with the District Attorney's Office and are prepared to charge any individual if they meet the criteria for charging this offense. So far we have not found any cases that rise to this level."
In other words, Ramsey said, there must be some clear evidence that race was a motivator in these attacks. Thus far, police have not seen that.
If you missed the chat, the transcript is here. Given how many people joined the discussion, we're hoping we can make these live chats with Ramsey a regular event.