Wednesday, October 1, 2014

On Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia

On Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia: As mayor of Philadelphia for most of the 1970s, Francis "Frank" Rizzo left an indelible mark on the city's history. Whether it was his rocky relationship with the local African-American community or the attempted voter recall during his second term, Rizzo certainly proved to be a controversial figure. Yet prior to his mayoral career, he served as Philly's police commissioner in the late 1960s. And it was Rizzo's tenure as police commissioner that offered the clearest hints as to how he would govern as mayor. For example, in a city where one-third of the residents identified as African American, Rizzo increased the number of black police officers to mimic Philly's demographics. Although the department's number of black officers only made it to 2 in 10, it was still above the national average for big city police forces at the time. Regarding police tactics, Rizzo was one of the first commissioners to require his officers to patrol in pairs. And in neighborhoods where ethnoracial tensions ran high, he often paired officers with different ethnoracial backgrounds. Despite these unique initiatives, however, Rizzo's tenure was marred by an August 1970 police raid on the Black Panther's headquarters. Even though he did not directly authorize the raid, Rizzo placed great trust in his officers to employ heavy-handed tactics when detaining suspects and gathering evidence.

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