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Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey shares knowledge and expertise in innovative ‘Policing in the 21st Century’ course

March 18, 2020

Sansom St. entrance to Golkin Hall.
Sansom St. entrance to Golkin Hall.

The course, co-taught by Professor John Hollway, is held bi-weekly and features small, student-led discussions about various contemporary issues in policing

Throughout the Spring of 2020, Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey is offering University of Pennsylvania Carey Law students to an insider’s law enforcement perspective in “Policing in the 21st century,” a course co-taught with Professor John Hollway, Associate Dean and Executive Director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice.

Commissioner Ramsey is a Distinguished Policy Fellow at the Law School, and the course was made possible in part through the Leo Model Foundation Government Service & Public Affairs Initiative. Distinguished Policy Fellows are invited to the Law School to enrich the intellectual life of the Law School community by sharing their expertise and on-the-ground perspective on law and policy with students and faculty.

Commissioner Ramsey is also the Former Commissioner of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department and Co-Chair of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. He was a police officer for 47 years and a police chief for 17 years, which provides him incredible insight on the reality and complexity of policing today as well as how it’s changed over the years.

“When Professor Hollway asked if I’d be interested in co-teaching a class, I saw it as an opportunity,” said Commissioner Ramsey. “For young, aspiring attorneys who will deal with criminal justice issues, getting a perspective that’s not out of a textbook is very important.”

The bi-weekly seminar of 25 students focuses on various contemporary issues in policing, including officer use of force, internal procedures regarding police errors, policing juveniles and the “school to prison pipeline,” the role of technology in policing, how sentencing affects policing and vice versa, prioritizing community dignity, and a case study of President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Initiative.

Professor Hollway sees the course as an important bridge between student expectations and interests entering law school and the types of courses they usually encounter once enrolled.

“A lot of law school ends up being caselaw-driven and very theoretical,” said Professor Hollway. “A lot of students, though, come to law school because of an interest in how the community is structured and how things ought to be. Sometimes there can be a disconnect between the things you’re learning in the classroom and the things you wanted to learn and talk about and debate and kick around in your head when you came to law school.”

Professor Hollway approached Commissioner Ramsey with the idea of structuring a course around his extensive knowledge and experience and was thrilled when Commissioner Ramsey accepted his proposal.

“It’s just a really rare opportunity to have unvarnished conversations with and get a candid assessment of what policing is like today from somebody like Commissioner Ramsey, who has seen and done it all in half a century of policing and who is one of the most thoughtful and leading reformers and improvers of policing in the United States,” said Professor Hollway.

Commissioner Ramsey praised Professor Hollway’s initiative in not only designing the course but also in devising its unique structure. Two or three students are chosen to lead each class discussion, for which they prepare and assign reading materials as well as draft questions to spark conversations. Following each discussion, students are invited to submit reflection papers, expounding upon what they’ve learned, points they would like clarified, or additional topics they would like to discuss.

Commissioner Ramsey said the reflection papers are among his favorite aspects of the course.

“When you read the reflection papers later and realize the impact that the discussion had on the students who maybe had not looked at an issue through a particular lens or considered certain aspects of it, that’s really special,” said Commissioner Ramsey. “I am learning a great deal too, both through the papers and the discussions,” he added.

“Commissioner Ramsey’s engagement with the law school community is a prime example of the innovative educational programming that the Leo Model Foundation Government Service & Public Affairs Initiative supports,” said Neta Borshansky, the Law School’s Director of Public Sector Careers and Director of Government Programs. “We are grateful for his dedication to our students and for his contributions to their development as they think about the role that they wish to play as public servants and leaders within their communities and determine their path within the legal profession.”

In accordance with University protocols, the seminar will continue to be held remotely for the duration of the semester. Next week’s class will open with Commissioner Ramsey’s observations about running a large urban department during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.