Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has installed a veteran police officer who oversees the Police Athletic League as head of school security for Philadelphia public schools.
Chief Inspector Carl Holmes, who is on loan from the city’s police department, has been investigated twice by the Internal Affairs Department. Top brass dismissed previous incidents that were brought to light, saying those matters were closed after an investigation.
“Chief Holmes is more than qualified to lead this position, and Commissioner Ramsey has the utmost confidence in his ability in working to keep our kids safe. Furthermore, none of those issues involved children in any way, shape, or form,” Lt. John Stanford, a police spokesman, said in an email response.
Holmes started his new assignment last week in the Office of School Safety in the district’s main offices at 440 N. Broad St. The management shuffle was based on the “needs of the department at this particular time,” Stanford said.
Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, expressed disappointment that more wasn’t done to communicate with parents and school community about changing of the guard in such an important post. She said it’s incumbent upon the police brass to be more forthcoming about administrative changes affecting the school community since the police department agreed to assign a chief safety officer to the school district.
Fernando Gallard, the district’s chief information officer, said, “We are grateful to the Philadelphia police department providing us with continued leadership. It’s a great partnership and has worked very well.”
Holmes, a lifelong city resident born in North Philadelphia and raised in Mount Airy, attended Temple University on a football scholarship before embarking on a short-lived career in the NFL. He holds a law degree and is the son of a Jamaican mother and Southern-bred father.
In a phone interview last week, Holmes outlined school safety as a priority not only for students, but for staff and parents as well. He sees his role as promoting cooperation between the Office of School Safety and the city’s police force, proactively fighting crime and apprehending predators and opportunists who would target students who are among “the youngest and most vulnerable.”
He plans to shift the focus of the day-to-day operations of the Office of School Safety. He also sees opportunities to partner with parents, community leaders, and school peer leaders, who, he said, “have more leadership potential than we realize.”
Holmes specifically mentioned the emotional toll on students who were bullied or threatened but the situation was never addressed. Sometimes, gun violence can erupt in schools, but Holmes said it can also manifest itself in other ways, such as fights or suicide attempts.
“Every violent act in school has been the result of some student in crisis who didn’t get the help they needed,” Holmes said, and especially in communities where resources are scarce and there’s an overwhelming sense of helplessness on the part of residents who see poverty in their neighborhood, rampant drug abuse, and teen pregnancy.
“We have to tackle these core issues,” he said.
Dorsey was on the job less than a year at a tumultuous time for the school district. Nearly two dozen schools were shuttered in June in a cost-cutting move, displacing more than 9,000 students who had to transition to new schools, raising concerns about safety of students who must pass through unfamiliar neighborhoods, raising concerns about safety.
The city and school district responded by encouraging students to walk along corridors supervised by volunteer adults who have been trained to watch for suspicious or threatening activity as they walk to and from school. The “SafeWalk” program is overseen by Town Watch Integrated Services and run in accordance with national and state standards.