By Jessica Kartalija

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A year ago this month, Danielle Outlaw was sworn in as the first Black woman to lead the Philadelphia Police Department. Tonight, Outlaw tells Eyewitness News that navigating this new role in a new city in 2020 taught her a number of things and reminder her never to stop fighting for the people she serves and the officers she leads.

Leading the country’s fourth-largest police department, Outlaw knew stepping into the role of commissioner would be challenging.

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In her first year, Outlaw dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, protests, and riots.

“It’s a gut punch. When I took this job, like most of my colleagues, when we take these positions, not only are we responsible for the safety and well-being of our employees, but, you know, it’s for the community as well,” the police commissioner said.

As of Feb. 3, there were 51 murders compared to 38 this time last year.

“I personally feel responsible for the safety of others,” Outlaw said. “It further incentives, not only myself but further incentivizes for us not only to reduce these numbers but eradicate it. It’s tough, it’s tough.”

KARTALIJA: Your officers catch a suspect and days later they are back on the streets. If I’m a police officer, what’s the incentive to risk my life to catch a criminal if there’s a disconnect between the department and the DA’s Office?

OUTLAW: “Our officers are frustrated, they’re absolutely frustrated. They put themselves on the line, they put their own well-being at risk. To see someone you might have had to tussle with or who was a harm to society back there on the street, it can be quite deflating, as you can imagine.”

KARTALIJA: Following the protests and riots in Philadelphia, the city controller said last week that there was a lack of leadership at the highest level. Aside from being understaffed, what would you have done differently?

OUTLAW: “If I were to look back, because hindsight is perfect, right? If I were to look back, I would say I would have done what we do now. Put a plan in motion even though there wasn’t any specific information relevant to Philadelphia or surrounding areas. We now know we have to operate in that world.”

KARTALIJA: How do you hope to restore trust in policing in Philadelphia?

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OUTLAW: “It’s a heavy lift, it’s a heavy lift. You know, whenever we feel like we take a few steps forward, all it takes is one incident and it feels like we are knocked 20 steps backward. Folks are tired of talks and meetings and ideologies and theories. They want to see action. I want to see action.”

KARTALIJA: Amid these calls to defund the police, what does that mean when you hear that?”

OUTLAW: “At first, it was extremely insulting. Flat-out, flat-out insulting. Now that I have a little more understanding where some folks are going with it, I understand the overall concept. I don’t agree with taking funding away from us. You have to invest in order to get the optimal level of service that everyone is expecting.”

KARTALIJA: What do you say to people who are afraid to be in his city because the crime is so high?

OUTLAW: “We have to ensure that when witnesses do come forward, they are safe in doing so. It’s generational, it’s multigenerational. Until this stuff is nipped in the bud at its root causes, we will continue to have the same conversations. It has to be community-driven. We are all residents of the city. Yes, crime is high. It’s still our city, but I think we can take back our streets.”

The commissioner says they have several plans already in the works to curb crime in 2021, like focusing on domestic violence response, utilizing technology and social media to track suspects of violent crime, bolstering their Narcotics Bureau in the East Division as well as creating a police district in Kensington.


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Jessica Kartalija