Residents living in the neighborhoods patrolled by Philadelphia’s 39th Police District gathered at district headquarters on West Hunting Park Avenue on Monday evening for the monthly Captain’s Townhall Meeting.
The meeting was well-attended, with over 25 people present, reflecting the community’s concern for the well-being of its neighbors and families.
Still, Lt. Vincent Testa, who led the meeting, expressed a desire to see greater resident participation in the future, at both the Captain’s Townhall Meetings and Police Service Area meetings.
The meeting opened with a presentation by Joseph Lukaitkis, the 39th District’s Crime Prevention Officer, reminding attendees to be mindful of crime-prevention techniques such as double-checking locks on doors and windows and remaining alert for suspicious neighborhood activity.
Testa noted that over 90 percent of property crimes are preventable.
“What are you doing to help us help you?” he asked. “We absolutely need the eyes and ears of the community to support us.”
Many of the initial questions and comments from attendees pointed toward a persistent worry that the City of Philadelphia is leaving residents in the 39th District vulnerable to criminal activity. Complaints cited multiple examples of abandoned houses, unmaintained street lighting, vacant lots and walkways obscured by dense vegetation, corners crowded with loiterers, and unlicensed or unregulated rooming houses.
“It’s like we’re the city’s stepchildren,” said Pamela Bracey, a resident of SW Germantown. “You tell us we’re not, but we wonder if that’s untrue. We want a better quality of life. We deserve it. It’s past due.”
Testa responded to each person’s particular problem in turn, but noted that police are limited in its power to address certain quality of life issues that by law are handled by other offices of the city government.
Nevertheless, he requested that residents continue to report their concerns to the 39th District.
“If you feel there is a situation that wasn’t handled well, call 911 and ask for a supervisor. Let me know you called so I can follow up,” he said.
Aine Doley expressed her concern that large groups of young people have been prowling the area between Germantown Avenue and Greene Street near Loudoun Park. She reported that between 50 and 60 youths were in the streets last Thursday and Friday nights, fighting with each other, tagging structures with graffiti, tossing garbage cans and breaking glass.
She worried that if the police department did not take action to set a curfew soon, the lack of a firm response to the problem might cause the young people involved to believe their behavior will be tolerated.
“These kids are not afraid of the police. They don’t think anyone can do anything to them. They think they can do whatever they want,” she said.
Testa questioned Doley’s account of the incident, citing a District report recording only one 911 call in the area that night, and containing no reference to a crowd of young people that large.
He also explained that the youth curfew instituted in 2011 and 2012 was a pilot program.
He further stated that even in the case of a curfew, unless a young person is apprehended in the act of committing a crime, the most a police officer may do is either send the child home or hold him or her in a non-secure location until a legal guardian arrives to take custody.
“But so many of these kids don’t even have parents that are part of their lives on a day-to-day basis,” responded Emily Busch. “We always say that the parents need to be told what’s going on with their children, but who is there to talk to in these cases?”
“The parents do need to become more involved. We call the police but there’s only so much they can do,” added resident Nettie Brykin.
In response to a question concerning a recent murder occurring in the Penn-Knox neighborhood, Testa deferred any comment on the incident to the detectives investigating the case out of the city’s homicide unit, further noting that information on the case might be made available to officers in the 39th District on Friday.
Doug Evans of Town Watch also spoke briefly to the meeting. In light of the recent afternoon murder of a teenage girl outside Einstein Medical Center he emphasized that the hours before and after school can be particularly dangerous for young people.
He asked that all concerned adults be especially vigilant during those times.