City Council members discuss teen programs, police recruitment ahead of summertime

“It’s gonna be 85 degrees,” said Katherine Gilmore-Richardson. “If we don’t have it together, you will get what you always have."

Philadelphia City Council chamber as seen from above.

File photo: Philadelphia City Council Chamber. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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As city leaders consider a spending plan for the fiscal year 2024, some are pressing the Philadelphia Police Department and the Managing Director’s Office for youth programming, police recruitment, neighborhood cleanup, and other strategies they hope will reduce crime and boost feelings of safety this summer.

Tuesday’s hearing allowed council members to ask department representatives questions ahead of the 2024 fiscal year budget vote, which will happen in June.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw did not attend the hearing. The department confirmed that she is out of work after sustaining a back injury in a vehicle crash in late March, and hopes to return in approximately two weeks.

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In March, Mayor Jim Kenney released his $6.1 billion budget proposal, announcing a proposed $233 million in anti-violence grant spending for community organizations, up from $208 million in the last budget.

The city began distributing small grants through the Targeted Community Investment Grant program in 2019 and larger grants through the Community Expansion Grant program in 2021. Some grant recipients have said that the funding distribution was delayed and onerous. Former Councilmember Allan Domb, now a mayoral candidate, has called for a formal spending audit and questioned whether it’s reducing violence.

Mary Horseman, deputy managing director for health and human services, said at the hearing that the city is awaiting an independent evaluation, but believes it has an idea of what a successful prevention program for youth looks like.

“We know things that are helping to provide protective factors to youth — that’s active engagement on activities they care about, whether that’s creative endeavors or sports activities,” said Horseman. “Being able to connect them to adults who are caring, who will help them work through challenges, who will help them think through if they’re experiencing something that they’re struggling with to help them deescalate that situation.”

Young people were the focus of much of Tuesday’s discussion. Several council members referenced an incident last week in which 350 to 400 teens swarmed Center City, and an officer was injured while responding.

Councilmember-At-Large Katherine Gilmore-Richardson cautioned that disorderly conduct is likely to continue as the weather gets warmer.

“It’s gonna be 85 degrees,” she said. “If we don’t have it together, you will get what you always have, which is what we saw last week and the week before. So we really have to be on top of it.”

Last year, Gilmore-Richardson successfully pushed for an earlier curfew for older teens and the opening of several Community Evening Resource Centers for teens in violation or teens who just want to hang out.

Research from other cities has shown curfews don’t reduce crime, and Philly teens interviewed by Billy Penn doubted it would have an impact.

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Council members also called for a summer job fair for teens, and a resource directory, accessible via QR code, to map out all of the available summer youth programs.

Craig Terry, 24, said he’s concerned that policy discussions are happening without taking young peoples’ ideas and feelings into account. He recently wrote an op-ed about that, as part of a Drexel University internship program that encourages youth to design their own approaches to public safety.

“Some educational summer programs are very structured, which is good for achieving improvements around grades and academic prowess, but some young people may leave bored,” he said.

Terry suggested that conversations with young people could take place in recreation centers or other safe gathering places.

“To ask young people to sacrifice their time, it has to be worth it for them and benefit them. It has to be informed by them,” he said. “There should be wiggle room to be informed by the people you’re trying to interact with.”

After a discussion about recreation center improvements, Councilmember Jamie Gauthier asked the Managing Director’s Office about block parties and other community events this summer.

She said in her district, block party applications are sometimes denied due to concerns about safety. At the end of last summer, a BillyPenn analysis found denials happen more often in North and West Philly

“Block parties are a time-honored tradition that makes Philly, Philly,” Gauthier said. “I know we’re all very concerned about gun violence, but the practice of denying blocks block parties seems very counterproductive to me … Having blocks where people are connecting with one another and having fun and getting to know each other as neighbors actually makes us more safe.”

Police recruitment was another major theme at the hearing. Kenney’s proposal includes $1 million in police recruitment funding, to be used to bring more officers of color onto the force over the next five years, he said when introducing the plan.

Deputy Commissioner Krista Dahl-Campbell said at the hearing that the recruitment unit has been making more frequent visits to historically Black colleges, and raising salary offerings to match other large cities.

Other policing issues that came up included the drug crisis in Kensington, the city’s low homicide clearance rate, and the use of non-union employees to fill certain administrative jobs in the department, with the goal of freeing up officers.

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