Philly’s new police commissioner: Stop talking about my nail polish policy and start talking about crime.

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PHILADELPHIA, PA- On February 10, Philadelphia got a new Police Commissioner, Danielle Outlaw.

While she is new to the department, she is by no means new to leadership in the law enforcement community.  I first met Danielle Outlaw when she was a Sergeant at the Oakland Police Department in California.  Actually, she was my husband’s sergeant when he was first released from the field training program there.

Outlaw moved up the ranks and eventually became the Chief of Police in Portland, Oregon until she was chose for the position of Police Commissioner in Philadelphia.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Commissioner Outlaw this week, and she is as smart and confident as I remember her.

When you hear her name, you might think of the most recent news articles out there about her.  It’s regarding something that is pretty big and important in the world of law enforcement:  Nail polish.

Commissioner Outlaw was walking the halls and getting to know her new LE home.  It was kindly pointed out to her that her nail polish was out of policy, which states female officers can only wear clear polish.  The next day, she signed an official order amending that policy and allowing colored nail polish to be worn on duty.

From the backlash she got, you would have thought she signed a policy saying cops could shoot anyone they wanted.

Outlaw said:

“Nail polish was the furthest thing from my mind and I certainly didn’t want to be out of policy.  I’m actually not surprised that it was turned into something it didn’t need to be turned into, but I’m glad it did.  

Tradition is important, but it can impede progress.  We say that we want to recruit more women but then we strip away something that makes them that.  Not all, of course, but to a lot of women it’s important.”

To that I say: Preach, Commissioner!  Wearing a men’s uniform, men’s boots, and doing a dirty and hard job, if a woman wants to paint her nails to remind herself that she’s still a woman at the end of her shift then more power to her! 

Outlaw continued:

“If it’s not an officer safety issue, and it’s not hindering their performance, then why would I take that away and impose barrier to entry for female recruits?  It’s the same with tattoos and beards.  It just happens to be that because I’m a woman that wears it, that’s what came up first.

It’s ridiculous that it was a headline but sometimes people need to be reminded that we keep out people we want to have on board by these institutional barriers.”

Commissioner Outlaw said that she has had nothing but positive responses within the department on the issue from both women and men.

Ok, now moving on to actual police issues.

The Commissioner was able to meet with several current and former rank-and-file officers of the Philadelphia Police Department at the Fraternal Order of Police lodge last week.  Outlaw said that she had been looking forward to working the room and making her way over to people. 

Instead, people made their way over to her: A line formed and stayed the entire time.  She met people who wanted to just say hi, people who thought there were some things she should know, and people who wanted to take pictures with her. 

She said that she was happy to get to have a meet-and-greet like that so early on and she’s looking forward to figuring out a way to do it on a regular basis.

I asked the Commissioner how she expects her working relationship to go with Philly’s progressive district attorney, Larry Krasner.  She said she has met him and had conversations with him and expects to meet with him regularly.

“We are ultimately working for the same goal,” she said.

Outlaw is optimistic about working with Krasner and says that any contemporary law enforcement officer “should be committed to social justice” like Krasner is.

“We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” she said.  “We can enforce laws in a compassionate and humane way.  Communication is key.”

Commissioner Outlaw said that she is planning to bring her experience from all over to help reduce Philly’s high crime rate. 

“Being a student of the profession,” she said, “I understand community collaboration is key.  Human services is key.  Law enforcement has to be consistent once we recognize what people need.

We are trying to get to the root cause of [a person’s] issue, and if that’s not effective then there has to be an enforcement piece and then consequences should be proportionate to the crime.

There are a lot of different factors; police are just one part of the solution.”

Outlaw said that she’s been asked often what it feels like to be the first black female commissioner in Philadelphia.  She mentioned that in the law enforcement world, women in general face more scrutiny, and even more so for women of color.

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“I can only speak for black women, because I’m black.  But we are often asked if we are ready or if we are sure we can do something.  Our soft skills are different, and what we bring to the table is seen as weakness.  Not being afraid to ask questions, or admitting we don’t know something, or using verbal skills to bring people together.

Now we’re seeing that a lot of our skills are what make us successful.  The leadership approach is different. 

Males might not check certain boxes, but they’re given the benefit of the doubt.  The sexism now is more nuanced.  Women might not be able to articulate exactly how or what, but it’s there.”

Outlaw said that there is a lot that impacts women in law enforcement, such as the family life.  She pointed out that women may sacrifice their careers on the front end to have kids, or on the back end which can hurt home life.

“There’s a lot that impacts us, and it’s important to be aware of it,” she said.

While the Commissioner is honored to be the first black woman to be the Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner, she mentioned that hopefully we won’t have to point things like that out about people soon.

After all, she said:

“It’s 2020- we shouldn’t be talking about firsts.”

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