Philadelphia Police Commissioner Resigns Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations in the Department

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross has resigned following new allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment against female officers in the department.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he accepted Ross’s resignation on August 20, according to a news release. Ross, who is Black, was hired by the Philadelphia Police Department in 1989 and was appointed commissioner in January 2016. Kenney said he was “grateful” for Ross’s “many years of dedicated service to our City, and the many reforms he brought to the Department.” The mayor then went on to say, “New leadership will help us continue to reform the Department and show that racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination simply will not be tolerated.”

“New allegations of sexual harassment as well as gender and racial discrimination among the rank and file have recently been brought to my attention. While those allegations do not accuse Commissioner Ross of harassment, I do ultimately believe his resignation is in the best interest of the Department,” Kenney said in a statement.

“Last summer, the City implemented a new sexual harassment prevention policy and a series of internal reforms. I do not believe the Police Department has taken the necessary actions to address the underlying cultural issues that too often negatively impact women — especially women of color,” the statement continued.

“I will be enlisting the help of an independent firm to investigate the recent allegations and to make recommendations to overcome some of the discrimination and harassment within the Department.”

Corporal Audra McCowan and patrol officer Jennifer Allen filed the lawsuit, which was obtained by USA Today. It alleges that Ross was told about sexual harassment and discrimination within the department but did nothing to stop the behavior. In one instance, McCowan texted and called Ross in February to report that a male officer sexually harassed her. Instead of acting on this, Ross reportedly texted back: “So why don’t you just order his dumb a— to go sit down and get out of your face ‘Officer.'”

In response, McCowan texted back: “Think about how you would feel if it was your daughter. Would it matter if it was someone that works for her or not? If she told the person to repeatedly stop, that doesn’t matter?”

Ross then responded by saying that he would “school” McCowan on sexual harassment “and indicated that he continues to be upset with her and was getting in the way of redressing her complaints in retribution for her breaking off their two-year affair, which lasted from 2009 to 2011,” the lawsuit obtained by USA Today reads.

The lawsuit also alleges Allen was sexually harassed and groped by her superior, Sergeant Bradford Williams, on multiple occasions in 2012. She also stated that while working at the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center, her breast milk was stolen. Her superior later made jokes about it.

On August 21, the two women reached a temporary deal with the city to protect their positions within the department from retribution, KWY-TV reported. The women’s civil lawyer, Ian Bryson, told the news station they had no idea Ross was going to resign as commissioner.

“If that’s what it takes to shed light on this issue, then we see it as a win for working people,” Bryson told the news station.

Philadelphia police union president John McNesby told the news station that he was “saddened” by Ross’s sudden resignation.

"Commissioner Ross has served the rank and file officers and the residents of this city with honor and respect over his three-decade tenure with the department," McNesby told KWY-TV. "The commissioner has served in every rank of the department and is a shining example that hard work and dedication can lead you to the top of your profession. We will miss his passion and guidance for this great police department."

Kenney has named Christine M. Coulter, Deputy Commissioner for the Philadelphia Police Department, as Acting Commissioner while a search is conducted for Ross’s replacement.

“Deputy Coulter is an experienced police commander with nearly 30 years of law enforcement service,” said Kenney. “She has diverse experience in patrol operations, narcotics intelligence, and investigations. I have full faith in her ability to lead the Department during this time of transition.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.