Jones holds up action on East Falls victims unit

It looked like a done deal on Monday, but now a City Council bill to move the police Special Victims Unit to a new East Falls facility could be on hold.

A measure to allow the city to lease a new 37,000-square-foot building on Scotts Lane showed up on the agenda for Thursday’s Council meeting, but its sponsor plans to keep it from coming to a vote.

“He’s absolutely going to hold it,” said Al Spivey, chief of staff for Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., whose Fourth District includes East Falls.

At a raucous community meeting to present the plan Tuesday night, hostile residents told Spivey and other city officials they felt the complex was a done deal being forced on them.

Spivey said Jones had introduced the bill on May 17 as a courtesy to Mayor Nutter’s office, but acknowledged neither had sent representatives into the neighborhood to talk about it.

A push for rapid OK

City officials are pushing for quick approval of the plan for the complex, because leases for the current homes of various prospective tenants are running out.

The center would house the Philadelphia police SVU, which handles sexual assault crimes against adults and children; unexplained deaths of children under age 10; long-term missing persons cases and Megan’s Law enforcement. About 70 SVU personnel, including detectives and supervisors, would work in round-the-clock shifts at the site, police said.  

The SVU moved into its current home at Front and Lehigh in 2003, touted at the time as being a more comforting, less traumatic place for sexual assault victims dealing with the criminal justice system.

The East Falls facility would be able to deal with younger victims.  A big part of the notion is bring into the same complex the social service advocates who work with victims, such as the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance and Department of Human Services.

The alliance would station 18 full-time and 4 part-time workers at the center, while the Department of Human Services would bring a team of more than 30 social workers and staff. Backers say the site’s location, near the Schuylkill Expressway and Route 1, and close to public transit, would make it more convenient for families navigating through social services system after abuse is discovered or alleged.

A litany of concerns

But to East Falls residents who felt blindsided by the project, that point suggested that the complex would bring a steady – and to them unwelcome – stream of traffic to the neighborhood, particularly narrow Scotts Lane.

Some residents at the meeting worried about the possibility the complex would bring criminal suspects into the community. Police Lt. Steven Biello any suspects arrested there would be held only for a short time before transfer to the 35th Police District station.

Others were angry at another large institutional social service development being brought into the neighborhood, already home to the Philadelphia Youth Study Center, an alternative high school and a drug and alcohol rehab.

The move would cost the city up to $860,000 in rent on a 15-year lease on the site, which lies in a G-2 institutional development zone. Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said the deal needs to be completed soon, before the city had to renew leases on the current locations of the various agencies.

You can contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com

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