Danielle Outlaw becomes first black woman commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department

"I am convinced there can be humanity in authority; they are not mutually exclusive," Outlaw said.
Image: Danielle Outlaw
Danielle Outlaw speaks during a press conference introducing her as Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department at City Hall in Philadelphia, on Dec. 30, 2019.Monica Herndon / The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

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By Gwen Aviles

A black woman will serve as the next commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department — a first for a division that has been grappling with racial turmoil and a series of leadership changes in the past year.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenny appointed Danielle Outlaw, former chief of police in Portland, Oregon, to the position on Monday.

"I am appointing Danielle Outlaw because I am convinced she has the conviction, courage and compassion needed to bring long-overdue reform to the Department," Kenny said in a statement. "With our support, she will tackle a host of difficult issues, from racism and gender discrimination, to horrid instances of sexual assault on fellow officers."

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Kenny added that such violence often disproportionately "impact women, especially women of color within the Department."

Beyond addressing issues within the Philadelphia Police Department, Kenny said Outlaw will also work to curtail violent crime and gun violence. The city is currently experiencing a gun violence epidemic; more people were shot in Philadelphia this year than in any other year since 2010, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Commissioner Outlaw's commitment to restoring the community's trust in our police will be equally strong," Kenny said. "She understands the history of race relations in Philadelphia, particularly the distrust that many residents justifiably harbor in the wake of decades of injustice."

Outlaw, 43, began her career in her hometown, Oakland, California, where she served for nearly 20 years in the Oakland Police Department and rose through the ranks to become Deputy Chief of Police. During her tenure in Oakland, she was awarded the 2015 Gary Hayes Award, a national honor that recognizes leadership in law enforcement.

This is not Outlaw's first time making history. In October 2017, she became the first African American woman to be appointed Chief of Police in Portland, Oregon.

"I will work relentlessly to reduce crime in Philadelphia ... and I will do so in a way that ensures all people are treated equitably regardless of their gender identity, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation," Outlaw said in a statement. "I am convinced there can be humanity in authority; they are not mutually exclusive."

Outlaw will begin leading the 6,500-officer department in February. She will succeed Acting Commissioner Christine Coulter, who took over in August after Commissioner Richard Ross resigned amid multiple scandals, including the surfacing of racist Facebook posts that led to the firing of at least 13 officers. Upon taking over the role, Coulter herself came under scrutiny and apologized for wearing a T-shirt in the 1990s that appeared to mock the brutal beating of Rodney King.

Outlaw was appointed after a four-month search, that led to the vetting 31 candidates — 18 of whom were already in the department — according to Brian Abernathy, managing director with the City of Philadelphia.