Homicides down but shootings, robberies up in Northwest Philadelphia police district

 Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass speaks to residents at St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northwest Philadelphia. (Matt Grady/for NewsWorks)

Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass speaks to residents at St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northwest Philadelphia. (Matt Grady/for NewsWorks)

Despite some positive statistical trends, police and elected officials said last week that they are keeping an eye on crime and quality of life in West Oak Lane, Logan and Olney.

Last week, Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass teamed up with officers from the 35th Police District to address residents’ concerns about crime and other city issues at a public meeting.

The good news: In an area known for its pockets of violence, homicide is down by about 50 percent this year, according to Lt. Greg Riley of the 35th District.

However, also reported that shootings and robberies are both up.

With the latter being driven by the forcible taking of smart phones, Riley suggested that cell-phone robberies and thefts primarily occur around public-transit hubs. Olney Transportation Center, located in the heart of the district on Broad Street, is an ongoing spot for police attention.

Riley noted, however, that city police are working with SEPTA Police to tackle persistent nuisances at the transit hub, such as targeting unlicensed “gypsy” cabs.

“We’re giving it a fresh look,” said Bass, who also pointed at two efforts to improve the quality of life both in the 35th District and throughout the city.

Anti-loitering measures under consideration

To help combat drug dealing and other problems associated with persons malingering on street corners, Bass said she hopes to introduce tougher anti-loitering measures to City Council.

“We’re looking at non-traditional ways of getting in front of the issue,” said Bass, standing in front of an audience that recalled the days when cops could fill a police wagon with corner boys with little complaint from neighbors.

While she was mum about details on Thursday, she hinted that the measures would hold property owners accountable for conduct occurring within their premises and on their sidewalks.

Her office is currently reviewing the legislation with the city’s Law Department, and hopes to have it introduced by the end of the year. In the meantime, police encouraged residents to call 911 with specific complaints about corner activity.

“We think we have something here that’s going to have an impact,” said Bass.

Rec-center worries

Bass is also working on an initiative to improve conditions – and public perception – at the Morris Estates Recreation Center on Chelten Avenue.

Earlier this year, Bass and other politicians toured the center, getting a glimpse of the site’s deteriorating mansion. They also spoke with neighbors who suggested that many residents are using nearby recreation centers instead because of lingering belief that the center is a dangerous place.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Morris Estates was overrun with gang activity and remains a place that neighbors associate with danger.

In September, a fatal shooting occurred on the center’s playground, the result of an apparent argument.

Currently, Bass said she intends to allocate a good deal of the $2 million being spent on playgrounds in the Eight Council District, with ongoing plans to rehabilitate the center’s physical plant and improve programing.

Bass is currently working with the center’s advisory council to finalize a plan, which she acknowledged would take time to implement.

She said the best way to kickstart the center is to have residents visit the site, which would hopefully discourage the criminally-minded from occupying the center.

“We’re putting a lot of money into Morris Estates,” she said. “It’s not for them.”

‘Knockout Game’ of concern

One topic on many residents’ minds was the viral act of thuggery known as the “Knockout Game.”

So far, Philadelphia Police spokespersons have mostly disavowed the crime’s presence in the city; no episodes are known to have taken place in Northwest Philadelphia.

Still, police are warning residents to stay aware of their surroundings, specifically telling them to be wary if individuals are seen breaking off from large groups.

Lt. Riley provided another cautionary note: Be careful about fighting back, as assault charges can be leveled in two directions.

“If you get the better of them,” he said, “you could get locked up.”

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