The Philadelphia Inquirer: How Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker landed on Kevin Bethel as her top cop

The process is emblematic of how Parker is likely to govern: she demands a
clear structure and advice from as many stakeholders as possible.

Secret summertime meetings in a backyard. Interviews conducted by two former police
commissioners in a stately West Mount Airy home. Advice from a congressman and an out-of-
state mayor.

This is the process Philadelphia Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker used to whittle down a field of
more than a half-dozen candidates to land on Chief of School Safety Kevin J. Bethel as her pick
for police commissioner, a hire seen as one of the most important decisions a mayor makes, and
one that came before she takes office in January.

The meticulous system Parker and her transition committee developed — including soliciting
advice from a bevy of advisers and asking former top policing officials to score applicants before
reporting back to her — demonstrates how she’s likely to govern. She demands a clear structure
and wants input from as many stakeholders as possible.

“All of the candidates, you should know, were exceptional candidates,” Parker said during a
news conference last week announcing Bethel as her choice. “But at the end of this very
thoughtful, careful, deliberative, and inclusive process, I strongly believe that we arrived at an
exceptional candidate to lead the Philadelphia Police Department.”

Interviews by former top cops

Parker’s vetting of candidates began over the summer, before she won the Nov. 7 general
election, when she met with contenders in her Mount Airy backyard.

During a news conference in City Hall two days after her win, Parker told the public that she’d
announce her pick by Thanksgiving — two weeks away. Seven candidates’ names had already
been floated in the press, including Bethel’s, and the police department’s internal rumor mill was
working overtime. The clock was ticking.

Parker onboarded interviewers whom she called “subject matter experts”: former police
commissioners Charles H. Ramsey and Richard Ross. Ramsey, appointed by former Mayor
Michael Nutter in 2008, was an obvious choice.

Sometimes called “the pope of policing,” Ramsey is one of the most respected law enforcement
officials not only in Philadelphia, but also across the country. While his tenure coincided some of
the lowest rates of gun violence in decades and his officers used at-times controversial crime-
fighting tactics, he is also a reformer who, among other achievements, cochaired a task force on
modern policing that was convened by former President Barack Obama.

Ross, a former top deputy to Ramsey who was appointed by Mayor Jim Kenney, does not have
the same reputation. While he was seen as an effective commissioner, Ross resigned in 2019 a
day after a former officer said in a lawsuit that he ignored her claim of sexual harassment by
another cop because she broke off an affair with him.

Ross and other individuals were later removed as defendants, which is common in suits against
the city. Last year, a jury ordered the city to pay the woman and another plaintiff $1 million in

Parker said Ramsey and Ross were the best positioned to evaluate candidates.

“I was very intentional,” she said. “These two commissioners have the experience and the
technical capacity, quite frankly, to cut through the BS and to help us develop the standards to
measure what we call capability, competency, chemistry, and readiness.”

Together, Ross and Ramsey developed a scoring system and a consistent set of interview
questions, including: What will your relationship be like with other law enforcement
partners, including the district attorney and the courts? How do you think about your
relationship with the police union? What is your vision for addressing the situation in

They interviewed candidates inside a brick home in Northwest Philadelphia owned by Kimberly
Turner-Dixon, the former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, one of Parker’s closest
political allies. Parker’s team used the house as a base to ensure privacy for the candidates and
avoid press watching from outside.

Among those who interviewed were Bethel, who had spent three decades in the department and
was seen as a leading contender from the jump.

Others said to have been considered were John M. Stanford, the interim commissioner who made
no secret of his desire to keep running the department; deputy commissioner Joel Dales; Joel
Fitzgerald Sr., a former Philly cop who is now chief of police for Denver’s transit system; and
Branville Bard, the vice president for public safety at Johns Hopkins University who also started
his career in Philadelphia.

Ramsey and Ross picked three finalists, including Bethel, whom they referred to Parker. The
choice was in her hands.

The ‘most well-versed’ applicant

Parker strongly values preparation, and she has said before that she needs a structured process to
make major decisions. She said in a September interview: “I have watched leaders who prefer
and thrive in chaos and confusion. Some people do well with that. My mind doesn’t work that

She was impressed when Bethel came to his interview with not only a resume that included a
post as deputy commissioner under Ramsey, but also a clear understanding of Parker’s own
public safety plan.

In March 2022, months before she even announced her campaign for mayor, the then-City
Council member rolled out a 17-page public safety proposal that would add “community police
officers” to the force, address recruiting challenges, improve victims’ services, and fund quality-
of-life programs.

During the mayoral campaign, it was rare for Parker to make it through a speech or a public
forum without mentioning what she’d dubbed her “comprehensive neighborhood safety and
community policing plan.”

Bethel, according to Parker, was “the most well-versed” in her vision and had developed “about
a book of annotations and notes that need to be added to the plan.”

Parker sought advice from a variety of advisers, including a conversation with Baton Rouge
Mayor Kimberly Weston Broome, the first Black woman to be chief executive of Louisiana’s
capital city.

“She said police commissioner, while he or she must have all of the credentials and experience
that is necessary to do the job, that I shouldn’t forget that chemistry is extremely important,”
Parker said. “That is chemistry with the mayor and chemistry with the men and women that
make up the Philadelphia Police Department.”

Top members of Parker’s transition committee and close confidants were intimately involved
and sat in on interviews, including Evans, State Rep. Donna Bullock, State Sen. Vincent Hughes,
and former Aramark CEO Joseph Neubauer.

Parker also gathered feedback from other advisers, including transition committee chair Ryan
Boyer, the head of the Philadelphia Building Trades & Construction Council, and cochairs Della
Clark, president of the Enterprise Center, and Greg Segall, a private equity investor. Antiviolence advocates Anton Moore, Rickey Duncan, and Chantay Love played key roles, too.

”Everybody wants this to work. The corporate community. The neighbors all across the city. The
elected officials,” Hughes said. “The process that I’ve observed has been a process where all
facets of the community were allowed to come to [Parker].”

As that process played out, and in the days leading up to Parker’s self-imposed Thanksgiving
deadline, rumors were running rampant.

Some in the police department and the political class speculated that the city couldn’t afford
Bethel, who was making a city pension and a salary from the School District of Philadelphia.
Others thought maybe the job would go to Fitzgerald, who’d posted cryptically on social media
about “looking forward to the changes coming to the City of Brotherly Love.” Philadelphia Magazine published a lengthy profile story about Stanford the weekend before the announcement
was set to be made.

Parker waited until just days before the holiday to make a final decision. In the end, and after all
that, she went with a man seen as the leading contender from the start.

Inquirer staff writers David Gambacorta, Ryan W. Briggs, and Sean Collins Walsh contributed to this article.