Why PPD Commissioner Outlaw skipped her swearing-in ceremony

She’s the first modern Philly police leader to forgo the formal procedure.

Philly Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw in December

Bastiaan Slabbers / WHYY

On Monday, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw officially began her position as the first ever Black woman to lead the department. There was something else unusual about her historic installment: she opted not to have a public swearing-in ceremony.

Outlaw will instead be meeting with members of her department privately, city spokesperson Deana Gamble confirmed to Billy Penn. As of publication, Outlaw also had no public schedule for her first week in office.

“She will determine if she wants to take part in a public event in the near future,” Gamble said.

Public swearing-in ceremonies are optional, Gamble said, but Outlaw is the first PPD commissioner ever to forgo the formalities.

Outlaw didn’t have a public ceremony because she decided not to, basically. It appears she was sworn in standing in a corner of City Hall, per this tweet from the mayor’s office, with Mayor Jim Kenney carefully watching her take the oath.

Outlaw opted for a low-key, private swearing in

Twitter / @PhillyMayor

Outlaw did attend a public event in December, hours after the city announced her appointment. In her speech and subsequent press conference, she made clear racism and sexism within the department would not be tolerated.

“Whether I was a Black woman or white male or whatever it is, I think it’s important to be very clear about what the expectations are,” she said at the time. “There has to be clear policy.”

Commissioners have been named and sworn-in since 1951, when Philadelphia adopted the Home Rule Charter, which defines the municipal structure and leadership roles.

The first police commissioner installed formally under the charter was Thomas J. Gibbons, sworn in on January 8, 1952, in a public event at City Hall.

Usually, police commissioners take up their new roles in an open ceremony at City Hall. In 1972, former commissioner Joseph F. O’Neill was sworn in during the inauguration of several other public and elected officials at the Academy of Music.

Most recently, Commissioner Richard Ross departed from standard protocol in 2015 when he chose to be inaugurated at his alma mater Central High School. Ross abruptly resigned from the department amid allegations he ignored sexual harassment claims from a PPD officer with whom he had an affair.

Outlaw comes to Philadelphia after a 2-year stint as Portland’s police chief. Before that, she spent 20 years moving through the ranks within the Oakland police department, where she ultimately served as deputy chief.

Commissioner Outlaw, 44, is only the fourth ever Philadelphia Police Commissioner to come from outside the department. The others are Kevin Tucker, brought in after the MOVE bombing in 1985, John Timoney, who came from the NYPD and served from 1998 until 2002, and Charles Ramsey, a Washington, D.C. transplant appointed in 2008 by former Mayor Michael Nutter. All the others did have swearing-in ceremonies.

Outlaw has been described by some as a level-headed leader who made unlikely allies on several sides of the criminal justice community. She’s also faced criticism for her department’s handling of protesters during her time as Portland’s commissioner.

In December, Outlaw shared her plans to lead Philadelphia’s 6,500-member police force in a statement.

“I will work relentlessly to reduce crime in Philadelphia — particularly the insidious gun violence that plagues too many communities,” she said. “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.”