Hooked on Law Enforcement
by Kristen A. Graham
As a boy growing up in Philadelphia’s Fern Rock section, Richard J. Ross Jr. ’04 (M.S.) never dreamed of a career in law enforcement.
After graduating from the city’s elite Central High School in 1982, Ross attended Penn State, where he majored in labor and industrial relations and imagined he might work in human resources. But a casual visit to a law enforcement job fair was an epiphany.
“It hit me like a brick,” recalls Ross, who would go on to earn an SJU master’s degree in criminal justice. “I wanted to be a police officer.” (His father later told him that he thought young Richard might be drawn to become a cop, like his uncle, a Philadelphia homicide detective in the ’60s and ’70s.)
The Philadelphia Police Department wasn’t hiring when Ross graduated from Penn State, so he spent some time in HR. “I knew it was a temporary stop,” he says. “I really wanted to be in big-city policing. To me, it represented the epitome of being a police officer.” By 1989, he had achieved his goal. Even then, though, Ross thought he might work as a city cop for a decade, then get out and go into the private sector.
But Ross was quickly hooked — after his first assignment as a Philadelphia police officer, he knew he’d be a lifer. He worked as an officer in the 9th District, in Center City, for the department’s anti-crime team (an elite, plainclothes unit no longer in existence), then as a detective, a sergeant, and a lieutenant. For a short time, he was part of former Mayor John Street’s security detail, as a lieutenant and then a captain in homicide — a rise that happened because of hard work but also, Ross says, with the assistance of mentors, both formal and informal, who counseled him on the path to success in the department. These days, he’s First Deputy Commissioner, second only to Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey.
And he still loves the job.
It may sound clichéd, Ross admits, but “I still get a great deal of satisfaction out of helping people.” Make no mistake: Helping to manage the country’s fourth-largest police department, with more than 6,000 officers and 800 civilian personnel, is a tough job.
The toughest part?
“Balancing efforts to help both the community and police officers simultaneously,” he says. One important part of the job, he believes, is to encourage officers to maintain a sense of enthusiasm, to not get too jaded.
“One of my favorite expressions in the world is, ‘A great deal of what you see is what you’re looking for,’” Ross says. “You’re here to improve the quality of life for the people that you’re sworn to serve and protect, and you can’t get so disgruntled that you view it as us against them — if you believe that everybody in the neighborhood you police is a bad guy, that’s what you’ll see. And it will have a negative impact on how you do this job.” Seek out the gems in the community, Ross tells his officers — the block captain, the trusted coach who tries his best to keep kids away from dark influences.
Even with a demanding job and a family, Ross manages to carve out a little time for himself. “I get up at 4:15 every morning, and I do a lot of running — for my health, but also for my sanity,” he says. “No one interrupts you at 4:15.”
He’s a golfer and a jazz fan. Ross and his wife, who live in the city’s Fox Chase section, have two children, a 17-year-old daughter who’s a senior at Central and a five-year-old son. “One is filling out college applications, and the other is waiting for the tooth fairy,” he chuckles.