We May Have An Answer: “Is Danielle Outlaw Philly’s Best Hope?’” “Outlaw arrived in Philadelphia two years ago to much fanfare…”


“During her four years as a sergeant, she worked in patrol for a minute and then transferred to Internal Affairs,” writes one anonymous blogger who chronicles the inner workings of Philly’s police department. “She then became lieutenant after another minute in patrol.”

she has an answer… ‘Does the department embrace diversity, equity and inclusion?

Mayor Jim Kenney, who is reviled by the Fraternal Order of Police,…

[Kenney] remains unchanged in his position that an outsider, and particularly a Black woman, was needed to shake up the insularity, misogyny and other ills that had found a resting place in the police department’s culture.


Philadelphia sets all-time murder record — RT World News

More killings in 2021 than any other time in city’s recorded history. The city of Philadelphia has set a record in 2021 with 559 murders committed, the most in its history since records began.

Philly’s surge in carjackings continues into 2022 – WHYY


Well… she does have that ‘sista’-girl glam thing going on…’

Over the next 18 years in Oakland, Outlaw would steadily work her way from patrol officer to chief deputy in charge of bureau services… Eventually, this career trajectory would become fodder for her detractors. “During her four years as a sergeant, she worked in patrol for a minute and then transferred to Internal Affairs,” writes one anonymous blogger who chronicles the inner workings of Philly’s police department. “She then became lieutenant after another minute in patrol.”

In the span of a few months, she went from being the subject of adoring think-pieces about her hairstyle and fingernails to having major media outlets call for her resignation.

The bad press has frustrated Outlaw…

As a girl, she inherited a disdain for the Oakland police department that ran deep in Black and Latino communities.

Danielle Outlaw arrived in Philadelphia two years ago to much fanfare. But her tenure as police commissioner has been challenging.

She’s funny, irreverent, smart. The kind of person you want to hang with. You may hate on her because she looks younger than her age, is petite with a sista’-girl glam thing going on and, yes, that black fingernail polish.

The only thing I can think to ask Danielle Outlaw, the only thing I haven’t seen her address, is how a big-city chief’s performance should really be measured.

she has an answer… ‘Does the department embrace diversity, equity and inclusion?

Mayor Jim Kenney, who is reviled by the Fraternal Order of Police,…

[Kenney] remains unchanged in his position that an outsider, and particularly a Black woman, was needed to shake up the insularity, misogyny and other ills that had found a resting place in the police department’s culture.

The Complicated Mystery That Is Danielle Outlaw

Through two tumultuous years, Outlaw — statistically minded, coolly professional, able to speak in perfect sound bits — has perplexed and infuriated a city that expects a crusader as its top cop. Hamstrung by COVID and controversy from day one, can she ever connect with the city—and fix the department she was hired to reform? 

By Lynette Tolbert Hazelton· 1/29/2022, 9:00 p.m.

It’s a balmy fall afternoon in the middle of evening rush hour at Broad and Olney — one of the city’s busiest transit hubs — and I’m waiting for Danielle Outlaw as three horses and their urban-cowboy riders saunter past.

“They were just in the Wendy’s drive-thru,” East Police Division inspector Michael Zimmerman tells Community Relations Division commanding officer Jarreau Thomas, sharing a laugh about the vagaries of Philly street life.

Thomas, like many officers of color, is a first-generation cop — and the youngest inspector in Philadelphia’s policing history. Zimmerman, like many white officers on the force, is a cop’s son, with 17 years on the force. But he has also doubled as an academic; he was once an adjunct instructor at Rosemont College and has a master’s degree in homeland security. They represent the next generation of Philly’s top cops, the embodiment of a mind-set shift from cop-as-warrior to cop-as-community-guardian that police forces across the country have struggled to make post-Ferguson.

I’m here with them because they’re the officers that Danielle Outlaw, Philadelphia’s polarizing police commissioner, wants me to see. I’m waiting here with the neighborhood brass after spending months chipping away at the thick PR wall that’s gone up around Outlaw since she reported for duty in early 2020.

She started her job with much fanfare, arriving from Portland, Oregon, to become the first Black woman to lead Philly’s force. She was tasked with cleaning up in the wake of numerous departmental scandals, from the mishandled sexual harassment claim that toppled the former chief, department lifer Richard Ross, to the 300-some officers found to be posting racist content on social media.

But not long after Outlaw, 45, started, she found herself in a crucible of COVID, fury over her department’s violent response to protests, and anguish over the police killing of a civilian. In the span of a few months, she went from being the subject of adoring think-pieces about her hairstyle and fingernails to having major media outlets call for her resignation. Before she got to set her agenda — before we got to know who she is as a cop, as a person — the world fell apart, and we all retreated to our bunkers.

Danielle Outlaw’s journey to top cop here seems unlikely when you consider where her life started. Danielle Bowman was born in 1976 in Oakland, California, a national hot spot for police brutality. As a girl, she inherited a disdain for the Oakland police department that ran deep in Black and Latino communities. “No one was saying they wanted to be a police officer growing up,” Outlaw once told a reporter.

Though the pair lived in Oakland, Outlaw says Bowman used her parents’ Berkeley address — her father was a food worker and her mother a janitor at UC Berkeley — to enroll her daughter in that city’s highly rated public-school system. Later, Bowman had another idea — a pricey private Catholic girls’ prep school, Holy Names High. Outlaw was neither well-to-do nor Catholic, so it took some doing to get in — and once she was in, she had to take four buses to get there. She barely passed the interview process, because while her test scores were off the charts, her grades were atrocious. (The problem, she told the girls at the Harrowgate PAL, was that “I had a stank attitude.”)

Over the next 18 years in Oakland, Outlaw would steadily work her way from patrol officer to chief deputy in charge of bureau services, earning a master’s degree in business administration from Pepperdine University in 2012. As deputy chief, commander of the Bureau of Risk Management, Outlaw oversaw the Training Division, the Internal Affairs Division, the Office of Inspector General, and the Criminalistics Division under Oakland police chief Sean Whent during a period of reduced crime. Eventually, this career trajectory would become fodder for her detractors. “During her four years as a sergeant, she worked in patrol for a minute and then transferred to Internal Affairs,” writes one anonymous blogger who chronicles the inner workings of Philly’s police department. “She then became lieutenant after another minute in patrol.”

Then came the national unrest following George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020. For days, peaceful protests and violent looting intermingled, especially in Center City. It boiled over on June 1, 2020, when police fired tear gas into a crowd of protesters who were illegally but peacefully marching on the Vine Street Expressway during rush hour. (Police also used tear gas in residential parts of West Philadelphia and in Kensington.) A month later, the New York Times published a damning second-by-second video of the Vine Street confrontation, and hell broke loose anew. At least 100 cities used tear gas that summer to curtail rioting, but it was Philadelphia that became the poster child for excessive force. Condemnations came from as high up as the United Nations.

Outlaw responded to the crisis with her signature polished, unflappable bureau-speak. She first told the press that tear gas was selected because “other options were not effective,” a claim countered by state police radio communication from the event. Then she said the decision was based on bad information, but only after the New York Times video went viral. The Inquirer editorial board called for her head: “Over the course of three days and many bad decisions, the police created chaos and danger instead of delivering order and safety. There is no more profound law enforcement failure than that. There is no simpler rationale for the mayor to ask the police commissioner to resign.”

The bad press has frustrated Outlaw, who argues that no police chief can combat what is a national increase in gun crimes. “A win is a win is a win,” she’s said, “and at any time when there’s optimistic info or a chance to point out one thing is working, or persons are arduous at work, we now have to offer individuals their kudos for that.” But it’s hard to stand numbers up against the mounting stories of teenagers shot down in their prime or the shots of grieving mothers on Action News.

When you sit across a diner table from her, it’s hard not to like Danielle Outlaw. She’s funny, irreverent, smart. The kind of person you want to hang with. You may hate on her because she looks younger than her age, is petite with a sista’-girl glam thing going on and, yes, that black fingernail polish.

But she’s the police commissioner, and the issue for her isn’t likability. It’s: What will she fight for? Outlaw is nuanced and deliberative in a city that is, in her own description, “very passionate, raw and unfiltered.” We want tales of heroism, conviction and devotion; she brings us statistics and that bureau-speak.

So, what do you finally ask the police chief after months of following her around, hours of reading her backstory, and then weeks of wondering if the rumors she might decamp to New York are true? What’s left to say? Especially when current bets are that Outlaw won’t be retained by the next mayor, whoever that may be, and that we’re likely closer to the end of her tenure than the beginning?

The truth may be that no single police chief, insider or outsider, can save us. Public safety is complex, problems linger, and even the most charismatic leader can’t bring about change by herself. There are no easy answers. The only thing I can think to ask Danielle Outlaw, the only thing I haven’t seen her address, is how a big-city chief’s performance should really be measured. As always, she has an answer in the form of a list: Are the police responsive? How did they treat you? Does the department have the ability to identify patterns and track them? Does the department embrace diversity, equity and inclusion? Later, Kenney, when I ask him in early December, adds to the list: What are the opinions of neighborhood leaders? Are reforms being introduced? This, they say, should form her real progress report card.

“I think she is doing a great job,” Kenney says. He remains unchanged in his position that an outsider, and particularly a Black woman, was needed to shake up the insularity, misogyny and other ills that had found a resting place in the police department’s culture. He blames the homicide rate on the state’s lax gun laws but points to another stat — the more than 6,000 guns police took off Philly streets in 2021, about 10 percent of which were ghost guns — to justify his upbeat report card. Kenney says if he gave her a grade, it would be an A-minus.

Published as “Is Danielle Outlaw Philly’s Best Hope?’” in the February 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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