Philadelphia police want to turn street corners into career launch pads

J. Jondhi Harrell is the executive director of The Center for Returning Citizens, which has partnered with the Philadelphia Police Department in an initiative to link employers with potential employees on Southwest Philadelphia street corners. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

J. Jondhi Harrell is the executive director of The Center for Returning Citizens, which has partnered with the Philadelphia Police Department in an initiative to link employers with potential employees on Southwest Philadelphia street corners. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

People hanging out on the corner are often stigmatized as hoodlums or miscreants, but Philadelphia police officer G. Lamar Stewart sees something more

“I see kings; I see queens. I see my son; I see my daughter. I see my niece, my nephew,” said Stewart.

Stewart said while patrolling his beat, he’d stop and ask the “corner boys” and “girls” what led them to the corner. He heard lamenting about not being able to find work, especially among the formerly incarcerated, who feared their criminal record would be overshadowed by their qualifications.

Inspired by these conversations, the Philadelphia  Police Department is sending officers out with local employers and workforce developers to set up a new breed of corner office. Called Turning a New Corner, the program will kick off  Friday at 6 p.m.

The initiative will put officers and community partners on different corners in Southwest and West Philadelphia on the first Friday of every month. The goal is to connect the people they see with information about jobs and workforce training opportunities.

Stewart said they’ve already identified 100 job openings including positions at Target, Sprouts Farmers Market and Petsmart that are ripe to be shared. They will also share details about employers such as The Fresh Grocer that are open to extending a second chance to people with criminal records.

“This is not something just for the community,” Stewart said. “This is also challenging our department and other law enforcement communities to think outside the box. And to think about how we look at people.”

The agencies offering workforce training include JEVS, The Center For Returning Citizens, and the National Workforce Opportunity Network.

They’ll offer a wide range of support to help the new workers prepare for and retain employment. Barriers such as criminal records, transportation, child-care, computer literacy, and even wardrobe will be addressed through the program.

“Getting these young people jobs is a beginning point,” said J. Jondhi Harrell, executive director of The Center for Returning Citizens. “But once they get a job they need to maintain and move forward. And they need a quality support system to do that.”

Stewart said he understands if there’s some apprehension about engaging police in such a manner. But over time he expects to earn trust.

“I believe it’s this type of work, this innovative, creative community policing that helps to break down those walls,” he said.

James Brown is a West Philly native who is on board with Stewart’s idea. After all, young people need alternatives to the street.

“This program here will give those kids an opportunity to do the right thing,” he said.

Stewart intends for the program to run indefinitely.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.