At Philly community policing forum, cops and citizens lean on each other

The ongoing national dialogue about community-police relations plays out every day on the ground locally. NewsWorks hosted a public discussion to find out how Philadelphians are addressing that relationship.

Participants were generally positive about the potential to improve public safety and community trust, but they harbored no illusions about the challenges and the fact that, as one said, “There will always be haters in the room.”

Neighbors came from Center City, East Falls, Fishtown, Germantown, Mantua, Mount Airy, North Philadelphia, Passyunk Square, Point Breeze, Queen Village, Roxborough, South Philadelphia, Southwest Philly, West Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware. Those who don’t live in Philly worked here.

There were neighborhood leaders, city employees, a few police officers, and citizens who simply wanted to learn more. We asked everyone: Why did you come? Here are some answers.

  • One said, “I’m a lifetime advocate for helping people.”
  • Another said, “I’m trying to help people developing friendships.”
  • One participant was interested in how mental health intersects with policing and how it’s respected.
  • An attorney at Women Against Abuse, who has frequent contact with police, came because she was interested in hearing participants’ stories.
  • Someone who grew up in North Philadelphia was concerned about the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • We hear so much in the media about this topic, said one. It’s important to have a person-to-person conversation.
  • Another had a similar thought: We may be familiar with the national dialogue; this one was curious to find out what’s working and not working in Philadelphia and if there is a viable path forward.
  • One resident, who lives in a neighborhood with a lot of students, wanted to talk about how to create a culture of support and investment among a transient population.
  • One man said he had recently met a student at the Community College of Philadelphia, who did not believe that policing is beneficial or needed, and was protesting on-campus recruitment for the police.
  • A college professor in attendance said he had done research on the topic and had led research on a police experiment in increasing foot patrol.
  • One woman noted that police presence has increased in her community over time. Combined with cameras and hovering helicopters, she said it feels like they are a community under surveillance.
  • One woman came because she has three brothers who are police officers and she largely supports the police and is thankful for their work.
  • A woman who had lived in Southwest Philadelphia said she credits positive and personal interactions with the police for her being alive today.
  • One woman came because she owns a business at Germantown and Erie that participates in a commercial corridor CDC.
  • Another woman said she believes in respectful and engaged policing that looks like Andy Griffith and Barney Fife. She said community, police, and merchants are highly segmented, and it’s important to find ways for them to gel.
  • Two police officers in attendance work with panelist Amelia Price on a project where they are involved in working with communities and merchants.

We take very seriously the idea of giving space to people to tell their own stories, and for giving others an opportunity to hear them. Submit a 700-word personal essay, commentary or op-ed to Speak Easy for consideration. Email speakeasy@whyy.org.

Special thanks go to discussion moderators from the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, including Marjorie Anderson, Brian Armstead, Gina Cappelletti, Randy Duque, Ellen Greenberg, Germaine Ingram, Ellen Petersen, Roz Spigel, Terril Thompson, and Josh Warner for their contributions to this report.

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