Residents voice concerns of drug dealing, drunken loitering and lack of police presence in the 39th District

The meeting room inside Philadelphia’s 39th Police District headquarters was more crowded than usual Monday night as residents packed inside to meet with the district’s newest captain.

Capt. Verdell Johnson officially took over on Jan. 3. The 24-year veteran replaced Capt. Stephen Glenn, who was transferred to the police department’s Civil Affairs Unit.

Monday marked Johnson’s fourth week on the job and his first time leading the district’s monthly community meeting.

“I believe in working with the community and I expect a lot from my officers because I know you expect a lot through me,” said Johnson to about 25 residents.

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Johnson took part of his time to inform residents about the type of crime that is plaguing the district in the new year: residential burglaries.

To date, the 39th Police District has 30 home break-in reports on the books in 2012, said Johnson. That’s more than double the figure at the same time last year.

“The burglaries are what are really killing us right now,” said Johnson. “I don’t understand why.”

He added that aggravated assault incidents are also up, but that burglaries at commercial properties are down.

Johnson then opened up the floor for questions and concerns.

In response, residents brought up concerns about drunken loitering, drug dealing and an apparent lack of police presence in certain neighborhoods.

“All kinds of things are going on,” said Allison Weiss, who works at an auto-repair shop on Wayne Avenue.

Johnson, who is still learning his way around the district, said he would look to address those issues and that he’d like to have more officers patrolling the district on bikes.

“To me, the bike is the best thing, but we have to get them trained,” he said, noting that only a handful of officers at the 39th District would be ready to ride.

Overall, the new captain stressed one thing: “I want the cops to work hard when they’re out there.”

Afterward, long-time Germantown resident Nettie Boykin said she was optimistic about Johnson’s tenure.

“He impressed me and hopefully he’ll be able to do something in our community,” said Boykin, who has lived in the Southwest section of the neighborhood for nearly 50 years.

Most of all, she hopes to see more officers patrolling in her community. “I think he can do it and I think he will do it,” she said.

Sonny Van Ngo of Nicetown, though, was less confident that the change in leadership would mean a positive change for the neighborhood.

“I don’t think he’s bringing anything new,” said Van Ngo. “There needs to be more focus. He should be more prepared in terms of presenting his plans for 2012.”

That said, Van Ngo doesn’t think it’s fair to expect Johnson to improve the district on his own. The community, he said, must also play its part.

The district includes East Falls and parts of Germantown and North Philadelphia.

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