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Kevin Bethel is Philadelphia’s next police commissioner

Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker will name Kevin J. Bethel as her choice for Philadelphia’s next police commissioner, according to a source with direct knowledge of the talks, ushering in a new era for one of the largest police departments in the country.

Bethel, a former deputy commissioner and current school security chief for the School District of Philadelphia, is expected to be announced Wednesday as the next leader of the 5,500-member force. His appointment would come as Philadelphia police try to pull the city out of a three-year wave of gun violence, while they are plagued by low morale and a shortage of nearly 1,000 officers.

The hire will be the first personnel decision made by Parker, who won the mayoral election earlier this month and takes office in January. She campaigned on a pledge to end “anarchy” in the city by hiring hundreds of police officers, increasing the number of officers who patrol on foot and bike, and adopting tough-on-crime tactics such as as stop and search.

Bethel, 60, has been considered a top candidate for months. He spent three decades rising through the ranks of the Philadelphia Police Department, culminating in 2008 when then-Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey named him deputy commissioner responsible for directing patrol operations throughout the city .

Bethel also has significant experience in juvenile justice, including working with the Stoneleigh Foundation to expand diversion programs for students who commit minor crimes at school. He has testified and lectured countless times on reducing the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and he is well known in policy circles.

Parker has predicted for weeks that familiarity with Philadelphia was a key factor, repeatedly saying she would choose someone who “doesn’t need a GPS to get to 52nd and Market.”

In her first news conference after winning the Nov. 7 general election, Parker said she would make her decision based on both the candidate’s credentials and his chemistry with other officers.

“They not only need the mayor’s trust,” she said, “but they also need the support of the base.”

All the top candidates had ties to the city. They included John M. Stanford, the acting commissioner; Deputy Commissioner Joel Dales; Joel Fitzgerald Sr., a former Philadelphia police officer who is now police chief of Denver’s transit system; and Branville Bard, vice president of public safety at Johns Hopkins University who began his career in Philadelphia.

Stanford has led the department since September, when Danielle Outlaw abruptly resigned to take a job with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Outlaw, who had never worked in Philadelphia before being hired, was sworn in just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic upended daily life and created myriad challenges for police. The remainder of his term was marked by mass protests, a staff exodus and a record number of shootings and homicides.

» READ MORE: Kevin Bethel reshaped Philadelphia schools. Here’s a look at his tenure as district security chief.

Bethel will face serious public safety challenges in the city and inherits a department — with an $850 million budget — that has been mired in internal conflict for years. His supporters say his experience in law enforcement in Philadelphia is a major asset.

Earlier this year, Ramsey described Bethel as “a right hand man to me” during the eight years they worked in high management positions.

“I was usually the first one in and the last one out (of headquarters) at night,” Ramsey said. “If there was anyone left in the office, it would be Bethel, looking at the crime numbers. He is absolutely driven when it comes to fighting crime.

Former Mayor Michael Nutter said there was “no one more serious about public safety than Kevin Bethel.”

“Everyone should be their own person and no one will be the second coming of anyone else,” Nutter said. “But I think from a philosophical, strategic and mental standpoint, there are a lot of similarities (between Bethel and Ramsey). There is a lot of agreement on how they behave and how they will go about getting the job done.

The most pressing challenge that impacts almost everything the department attempts to accomplish is staffing. Like many other industries and municipal agencies, the police department has bled its officers during the pandemic, losing hundreds to retirements and resignations. At the same time, hundreds of police officers were unemployed, on accident leave – some abusing the program.

Outlaw also blamed the political environment and perceived lack of support for police after protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. And she said the problem was exacerbated by a 2020 rule championed by Parker and requiring most municipal workers to live in town for a year before applying for a job.

That rule was lifted for police recruits in early 2022. Despite millions of dollars in new funding to support recruiting efforts, there are still about 900 officer positions vacant and hundreds more expected to retire in the over the next four years.

» READ MORE: Philadelphia Police Department has inconsistent strategies, slow response times and outdated systems, city comptroller says

This attrition came as the city was plagued by record rates of shootings and homicides in 2021 and 2022, leaving more than 1,000 people dead in two years. Thousands more people were shot and survived, and the violence was intensely concentrated in some of Philadelphia’s most disadvantaged communities.

Gun violence rates have improved significantly this year. Police statistics show homicides are down around 30% compared to the same period last year, an encouraging sign – but the 372 people killed this year remains a higher figure than almost any other time. other time in the last 15 years.

Additionally, there have been nearly 1,200 non-fatal shootings this year, an improvement from the all-time highs during the pandemic but still higher than in the years leading up to the 2020 peak.

Certain categories of property crimes, notably theft, also remain high. Following national trends, car thefts have exploded, with more than 20,000 incidents recorded so far this year, according to data kept by the district attorney’s office. That’s more than double the number of car theft incidents reported last year – and 10 times the number in 2019.

This is breaking news and will be updated.

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