"They disrupt traffic, but so what? The First Amendment is more important than traffic."
Memphis police chief candidate and Philadelphia PD Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan will be the cop most on the spot in America next week as Philly PD’s point man for the Democratic National Convention.
Of the five out-of-towners who were turned up by a national search, Sullivan will be in the national spotlight like no other as it will be his task to keep peace on the streets outside the Wells Fargo Center.
Sullivan has somewhat of a reputation for peaceful protests, and he says that during protest rallies, he is on the front lines with his men; that he does not want them to don tactical attire, and that “a verbal insult has never hurt me once in all my years. People can scream and curse me all they want, and I’m not going to react.”
As a candidate for Philly chief of police last year, Philly.com ran this capsule about Sullivan:
“Chief Inspector Joseph Sullivan, 52, is probably instantly recognizable to anyone who's attended or watched the large protests — from Occupy Philly to Ferguson to Brandon Tate-Brown — that have unfolded in the city during the last few years. Sullivan is always in the thick of the protests, providing a calm presence and communicating with activists to assure that marches don't veer into chaos.”
Sullivan and the four other out-of-town chief candidates will be brought to Memphis in August to interview for the job, although Memphis city council, the NAACP and even protestors of police violence have asked Mayor Jim Strickland to name interim police director Michael Rallings as the full-time chief. Strickland would seem to have no choice, this side of political suicide, but to name Rallings. However, Strickland is insisting on going the route with consideration of all candidates recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Here are some snippets of our conversation with Inspector Sullivan, who is commander over homeland security, counter-terrorism and special operations:
When we let people vent and get their emotions out, they feel like they have been heard. They disrupt traffic, but so what? The First Amendment is more important than traffic.
We walk with them. I walked more than 20 miles in a demonstration after Ferguson. In handling demonstrations, I have my plainclothes civil affairs people, and I have my bikes. The bikes are the key to demonstrations. I don’t have my officers dressed up in aggressive uniforms -- that’s a flashpoint. You may need to have those officers somewhere nearby, but they should never be seen by protestors. They should see friendly officers. If you come dressed for a fight, you’re likely to get a fight.
People know we do demonstrations better than anybody else. NYPD reached out to us to learn about our bike program due to the success we have had. Those officers have a helmet on, but they’re on bikes.
I believe in leading by example. Your officers need to see the way you interface with the community. A lot of officers aren’t happy with the way I handle demonstrations until they see that over time why it makes so much more sense not to react to people, even when they are being very offensive. It makes more sense to be patient, take your time. It is always the better course of action to use restraint and take the high road.
A verbal insult has never hurt me once in all my years. People can scream and curse me all they want, and I’m not going to react. Once officers see that, they get on board, too. You can’t ask officers to do something when you’re sitting in your office. When they’re in your face, like they are in the officer’s face, it makes a world of difference. You are experiencing the same thing they are experiencing. If they see the chief can do it, I can do it.
FILMING THE POLICE
We had a demonstration last night, and we only had one TV station respond, but I let them get right up there where we were. I told them, stay there, you’re my best witness. It keeps my officers in line and protestors in line. The news is here. They’re filming what we’re doing. Not all the cops like that, but it keeps everybody honest. Anybody wants to make an allegation the next day, feel free to make an allegation. I’ve got my body cams, and I’ve got the news. I have our video and independent video.
CITIZEN POLICE OVERSIGHT
If there is a citizen board to give me the perspective of the community, the point of view outside the department, it can help me do a better job and produce a better product.
The Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission works hand in hand with our internal affairs. Some people think they need a little more bite. Having the confidence of the community is extremely important. There’s always a question of can the police properly police themselves, and I believe they can, but I also believe it’s important to have some external oversight to insure that process is honest and thorough.
The community needs to know that when they have a complaint, or when police officers use force, there is going to be a fair and comprehensive investigation to determine if that force was justified. Citizen oversight can be an excellent tool to bring problems to our attention, such as if the officers are properly trained, supervised and reporting. It benefits my officers, and it benefits the community.
I hold supervisors highly accountable. Sometimes officers make mistakes because they are not properly trained or equipped. Sometimes officers get the blame, but my first question is where was the commanding officer? Second question, was it a mistake of the head or of the heart? Then, did he not have the proper equipment so he took it to a level it didn’t need to go to? To fix a problem, look at the whole spectrum, fix it department-wide.
THE MEMPHIS CHIEF JOB
Sometimes it can be helpful for any organization from a management perspective to get a fresh set of eyes to come in and take a look at things. I’m looking forward to coming to Memphis. Memphis is a beautiful city with beautiful people and an experience I would look forward to.
I’m ready to come and embrace Memphis. I wouldn’t have applied for the job if I wasn’t 100 percent all in. I’m asking the people of Memphis to trust me that it would be beneficial to bring me in and have a fresh set of eyes look at your department.
I approach every situation with a positive outlook. I have to assume that since they are taking the time and expense of bringing me to Memphis they honestly want to hear what I have to say, and they are honestly going to evaluate me. I am gong to take this seriously. I would love to have the honor bestowed upon me of being the Memphis police chief. As much as I want to be chief of Memphis, I love being in the Philly police department, and I love coming to work every day. If the worst thing that happens is I continue working for Commissioner Ross, that’s fine, too.
My girlfriend has done a lot of research on Memphis, and we’re getting really excited about it. We’re looking at a lot of different things on the Internet, and we are seeing that people in Memphis eat very well. We’re very excited about the prospect of being in Memphis, including the culinary opportunities.
POLITICS AND CRIME
I’m working 16 hours a day on the DNC. I’m a professional, and my heart and soul is in making the DNC a success for my city and my police commissioner. I am not a politician; I will get well-versed in the politics before I come to Memphis. It’s not the politics that concern Memphis, it’s the crime. You reduce crime by building bridges with the community. If you don’t have their trust and confidence, and their belief in you, you will not have success in fighting crime.
If you’re looking for a guy who spends the day in the office, I’m not him. I am on the street, hands-on at the front, that’s the type of leader I am. That instills confidence in your men and women to see you out front. And if you don’t have the confidence of your men and women and of the community, you cannot be effective.
I respond to all demonstration watches personally. When as a police executive you arrive on the scene, your officers should get a bit of a smile, should be happy to see me.
To come work for me you don’t need to know me, be related to me, just come to do the job, and be enthusiastic about doing the job. Every officer should have a chance to have a great career, and that’s important to maintaining an officer’s morale. Not every career path has to end up in being a supervisor; not everybody wants to be a supervisor. Not everybody wants to spend their whole career on patrol and doing the same thing every day.
Social media is another way to communicate. People are very into social media, and the police department has to do the same. You can solve a lot of crime using social media, and it’s a good way to assure the community that you are there, what you are doing to handle a problem. That’s how you keep the lid on the pot. If you don’t respond to their questions, you’re inviting trouble.
I’m a proponent of community policing as long as the community policing involves the entire department -- all the officers, not a select few officers.
Part of the problem is we often don’t involve the line-level officers in the process of community policing. We don’t have them come to community meetings. In the community policing process, if we make it a specialized function, that’s not community policing.
Community policing to me is a crime-fighting tool. If you say you’re practicing community policing and your crime’s not going down, you’re not doing it well. If you’re doing it right, you’re developing better lines of communication and higher levels of trust with the community.
Of course, everyone wants us to address violent crime; but people have other things that are important to them, that affect their quality of life. You can’t assume you know everything people want without talking to them.