Grassroots effort looks to establish police mini-station in Germantown

 Residents discuss community issues at a meeting inside the Queen Lane Station. (Aaron Moselle/WHYY, file)

Residents discuss community issues at a meeting inside the Queen Lane Station. (Aaron Moselle/WHYY, file)

On a chilly Friday afternoon, Yvonne Haskins and Lisa Hopkins divvied up a tall stack of fliers inside Queen Lane Station’s parking lot and got to work.

The high-traffic train station is ground zero for a nascent grassroots push to convince city officials to open a police mini-station in the neighborhood. More specifically, on the second floor of the station ticket office.

“It’s sat vacant all of this time. This would help the community and SEPTA riders getting off,” said Haskins before securing a flier about the effort — and who to bug about it — beneath a windshield wiper.

The way Haskins and Hopkins see it, the idea is a no-brainer that could be executed with relative ease.

SEPTA, who owns the building, would lease the long-vacant space to the Philadelphia Police Department for a $1.

Police from the 39th District — which includes the tough Germantown streets in and around Queen Lane Station — could then have easy access to an area that officers routinely target when patrolling.

The trickiest part? Renovating. For Hopkins, the public safety part of the equation is the most important thing right now.

“People are not feeling protected,” she said.

Feeling an uptick

Questions about opening a mini-station have surfaced at community meetings in the past, but this is the first time neighbors have banded together to plead their case.

Capt. Michael Craighead, who leads the 39th District, said violent crime around Queen Lane has declined since he became the top cop there in November 2012.

But Hopkins and Haskins don’t feel that way. In fact, they say the area has become more dangerous, especially over the last couple of years. And they’ve had enough.

“I’ve lived here for 15 years and I’ve never seen it like this,” said Hopkins. “Shootings during the daytime, it was unheard of.”

Hours before the pair met at Queen Lane Station, a 17-year-old was shot several times less than a mile away.

The boy ran to a nearby gas station convenience store, where employees locked out the gunman, who was pursuing the victim.

Drug dealing is also a considerable problem up and down West Queen Lane.

Haskins said neighbors have done all they can do to help control the area’s crime and that it’s time for city officials to really listen to and consider their proposal.

“We can’t tackle the drug dealer. I don’t think people want vigilantism here. So what else can we do? We can report crime and we can beg for help. And that’s what we’ve been doing in a loud, loud way.”

Officials respond

SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said the transit agency would be open to turning over the second floor to police if the department is, in fact, interested.

At the moment, there are no proposals for the space and a deal would be fairly painless, he said.

“They wouldn’t be asked to be bid,” said Busch.

Renovating the space, however, could be costly. Busch said the building is historic and that construction would need to follow historic guidelines.

Craighead, for his part, is also open to the idea.

“If there were one there, I would look at it like an additional resource,” he said.

Getting a mini-station opened in Germantown, however, will likely take a strong political push if it has any chance of getting off the ground.

Asked about the idea, Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass was a bit lukewarm. She’s not outright opposed to it and said she was open to exploring all options.

Still, Bass didn’t seem convinced that a police mini-station would be the most effective remedy for reducing crime in the area.

“This is not a model that they’ve been moving towards. This is not something that they’ve been actively seeking to do, said Bass, adding that, ultimately “it’s a question of resources.”

There is just one mini-station, located at 9th and South streets, in the city.

Bass noted that violent crime decreased citywide in 2013 without the use of mini-stations.

Sitting inside the Queen Lane ticket office, Haskins said she knows the community effort is a bit of a long shot, that she and Hopkins are “going out on a limb.”

But this isn’t a fight the two are going to give up on easily.

“What we’re saying to the people is that you have a group of people that have become resolved to get rid of this crime. That has to be leveraged. That has to mean something to the city and law enforcement,” said Haskins.

Neighbors will meet with SEPTA and police department officials at Queen Lane Station Wednesday night to discuss the mini-station. Check back for a full recap on Thursday.

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