Northwest Philly police’s top cop talks about successes, challenges and future initiatives

 Inspector James Kelly, commanding officer of the Philadelphia Police Department's Northwest Division. (Matthew Grady/for NewsWorks)

Inspector James Kelly, commanding officer of the Philadelphia Police Department's Northwest Division. (Matthew Grady/for NewsWorks)

While the best part of the job is completing the paperwork so he can hit the streets, Inspector James Kelly takes all aspects of his position seriously.

“As divisional commander, I’m responsible for everything from soup to nuts,” said Kelly of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Northwest Division, which he oversees. One of six divisions in the city, it includes four police districts – the 5th, 14th, 35th and 39th – and serves approximately 300,000 residents.

“That includes quality of life for residents and leadership for the officers under my command,” he continued, “both of which are responsibilities that I don’t take lightly.”

Kelly was appointed last fall as part of a sweeping, citywide restructuring of command in the PPD; three of the four patrol districts in the Northwest received new captains, as did the Northwest Detective Division, which is tasked with investigative assignments.

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Citing progress

From his second-floor office at the division’s headquarters at Broad and Champlost streets, Kelly recalled a year in which strides were made combating both violent and property crimes.

To stay on top of the pockets of violence, each district captain was asked to identify an area that would receive what Kelly described as a “constant tactical presence.”

As a result, homicides are down 45 percent across the division, with a four-percent reduction in violent crime across the Northwest as Sunday.

“We had a good year in reducing violence,” he observed, “but we want to make sure it’s not just one good year.”

Significant drop in burglaries

In the property crime ledger, which is down eight percent overall, Kelly reported that residential burglaries also witnessed a significant drop, down 26 percent since the first of the year.

Kelly attributed some of this reduction to the creation of a Burglary Task Force, which coordinates patrol activities with specially-assigned detectives.

In addition, the PPD is using electronic databases to more thoroughly monitor pawn shops and precious-metal dealers, who are often the recipients of stolen goods.

Collective leadership

While there are various tactical initiatives at work, Kelly is quick to reference the enthusiasm of his district commanders, three of whom were newly promoted and installed in 2012. Collectively, their experience is diverse.

Now leading the 39th District, Capt. Michael Craighead was a veteran of the Internal Affairs Bureau. In the 14th District, Capt. John Fleming was promoted from a position in Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey’s office. Capt. Joseph Fredericksdorf came to the 35th District from the 25th in North Philadelphia.

“They did a really good job overall of meeting the violence and residential burglary challenges,” Kelly said.

In the Fifth District, he complimented veteran Capt. John Cerrone with looking for additional ways to help keep a safe district stay that way, identifying areas where theft and burglaries typically occur.

To combat what he described as a “target-rich environment,” Kelly has also assigned members of a divisional task force to monitor Main Street in Manayunk on the weekends.

With regard to the much-hyped game of assault known as “Knockout,” Kelly expressed relief that it hasn’t appeared in the Northwest.

With areas around school and transit hubs the most likely settings, Kelly indicated that the best strategy is getting word to the public and encouraging residents to remain aware of their surroundings.

Still grappling with robberies

Despite this convergence of new energy and experience, robberies persist across the district, mostly as a result of stolen cell phones.

Noting that it’s a national problem, Kelly estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the division’s robberies are related to the taking of wireless devices.

“We haven’t experienced the reduction in robberies that we had hoped for,” he said. “It’s an uphill battle.”

To combat its spread, Kelly said Northwest Detectives is consistently tracking the phones once they are reported stolen.

During the holiday season, additional attention will be paid to the major commercial corridors throughout the division to see that robberies and other crimes of opportunity are prevented.

What’s coming up?

Looking ahead to 2014, Kelly said he is concentrating on “tweaking and refining” measures already in place.

With reference to the targeted areas, Kelly said he plans to deploy dedicated beat officers to each; the hope is that they will be able to fight crime and develop relationships with community members.

“Beats serve a purpose,” he observed. “They’re out there meeting people.”

The Olney Transportation Center, located within the 35th District, is in the midst of receiving attention from both political and law-enforcement arenas. Supplementing SEPTA police, 35th District officers are also trying to tackle quality-of-life issues around the transit hub.

In the 14th District, the intersection of Germantown and Chelten avenues – also a transit hub – will receive concerted focus as well.

At the same time, Kelly will continue to encourage the release of surveillance videos to local media outlets.

“They have paid off for us in a big way,” he said, explaining that they help solve all manner of crimes from shooting to shoplifting.

Kelly said he also hopes to build upon the support that currently comes from the community level, a relationship which he described as an advantage for the hundreds of cops, detectives and commanders he oversees in the Northwest Division.

“Everybody’s stake is just as important,” he said.

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