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Philly government is ‘soul crushing’ but that’s not why Tony D’Abruzzo is leaving [Exit Interview]

Tony D'Abruzzo ran the Police Department's data science program. It was a job, he said, that was all-consuming — for better or worse.

Tony D’Abruzzo’s job kind of drove him crazy.

D’Abruzzo, who until recently ran the Philadelphia Police Department program to train cops as data scientists, liked to say: “If you’re in city government and you don’t have a drinking problem, you’re not trying hard enough.”

But as much as the bureaucracy and “indentured servant pay” wore on him, he loved his job.

“The only thing that kept me in Philly was that I loved what I was doing,” he said last week.

D’Abruzzo, 33, of Hawthorne, whose self-deprecating and at times off-color humor made him well-loved at the department, left Philly this past weekend for Pittsburgh, his hometown. He’ll work for City Controller Michael Lamb, figuring out how city departments can best use their data (the city also launched an open data policy earlier this year). The move, he said, was triggered by the death of his father. After six years away from home, he wanted to move back to be closer to his family.

He said he’s proudest of training 30 sworn officers how to be crime analysts through a partnership between the Police Department and Temple University.

“I put officers’ maps on my fridge because I was proud of their work,” he said, quickly adding: “I put my own maps on my fridge, too.”

The “SMART” program, as it’s called, is one that’s unique around the country because of how it places cops in a university setting to train them about crime science, said D’Abruzzo, who travels around the country giving talks on data-driven policing.

Working to make Philly better — that was fulfilling, he said. But sometimes, it felt like there was no reward for doing good work in City Hall.

“In the last two years, almost every 30-something I know [who worked in city government] has left,” he said.

He thinks that’s because people who worked hard felt like they didn’t get recognition or the pay raises to reflect that work.

“People who work really hard are going to get more work,” he said. “That’s kind of the system right now.”

It’s part of what made working at the City of Philadelphia “soul crushing,” as D’Abruzzo put it. The archaic processes didn’t help, either.

Here’s one example: two years ago, D’Abruzzo told management he needed staff to help run the crime scientist program. He was only able to get approval for it this past summer. When the city posted the job listings for the first time, no one applied. Or rather, no one who applied was deemed “qualified” by the city’s human resources department, who processes applications before a city department sees them and starts the interview process. (The required master’s degree for the jobs was a barrier, D’Abruzzo said.)

The second time around, D’Abruzzo decided to blitz all his networks in hopes of getting more applicants. This time, 187 people applied for the three positions. Only seven were approved. The department recently filled the three positions, though, as of late last week, it looks like two of the three won’t take the job, according to D’Abruzzo.

The way D’Abruzzo talks about it, it’s the people that made his job worthwhile. The veteran cop in the statistics division who “adopted” him when he was new to the department, the sergeant who said D’Abruzzo’s crime analysis program changed the way he sees policing and police leadership, like Deputy Commissioners Nola Joyce and Kevin Bethel, who championed data-driven policing.

And despite his gripes, he is, admittedly, heading to work for another city government. Why not do something else?

He shrugged.

“I just really like government.”

Companies: Philadelphia Police Department
Series: Exit Interview

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