Addressing a host of Philadelphia Police Department officials, Nettie Boykin lamented the changes in her neighborhood.
A resident of the 100 block of Seymour St. since 1962, Boykin’s blunt appraisal of crime trends and the police response to them at Tuesday’s Southwest Lower Central Germantown Community Association meeting were informed by her five decades of residence. In fact, that very day was her 50th anniversary of residence.
Foreseeing trouble ahead, the retired city employee beseeched the police commissioner, deputy commissioner, inspector, captain, lieutenant and all other police officers present for assistance.
“This place is going to go if we don’t get any help over here,” she said.
Talking to residents
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey took the helm of SOLO Germantown’s monthly meeting.
There, he spoke to a room full of residents at the Holy Temple of Deliverance Church about police-related topics ranging from broad departmental strategy to local deployment tactics.
His supporting cast included Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel, who heads police patrol operations, and Capt. Michael Craighead, who was recently appointed to the command position of the 39th District.
Foregoing a formal presentation, Ramsey addressed written and impromptu questions from the residents on a variety subjects, assisted on occasion by his subordinates on certain issues of local concern, such as the deployment of foot patrol officers on Germantown and Wayne avenues.
“He’s still there,” said Craighead of the Wayne Ave. officer.
The roots of crime
Foremost among Ramsey’s responses were the causes and instruments linked to many crimes across the city: Drugs and guns.
Drugs, he said, continue to be one the biggest problems faced by the PPD, with a majority of crimes in the city being linked to their use or distribution. Citywide, both uniformed Narcotics Strike Force and plainclothes Narcotics Field Units are deployed. In the 39th District, a Narcotics Enforcement Team was recently restored, and is commanded directly by Craighead.
With respect to guns, Ramsey observed that Pennsylvania’s gun laws are among the weakest in the nation. Given that only state lawmakers have the right to amend gun laws, he was not optimistic that any changes would occur at the legislative level.
However, in an attempt to remediate this situation, the PPD is coordinating with the District Attorney’s office to give gun offenders stronger sentences.
Asked if gun buy-back programs could be implemented, Ramsey noted that while many times the guns received are not what he termed “crime” guns, he favored any initiative to get guns off the streets.
Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass added that while gun buy-backs are costly, if there was sufficient support, her office would look into the program.
Quality of life issues a meeting focus
Lest non-911-issues get lost in a sea of statistics and strategy, Ramsey was asked if a “quality of life task force” could be implemented.
In response, Ramsey observed that nuisance issues can do more to destroy neighborhoods than so-called major crimes, destroying property values and affecting businesses.
He touted the Police Service Area model, implemented under his tenure, wherein lieutenants assigned to patrol districts are required to develop an action plan to deal with both crime and disorder problems.
Ramsey suggested this is where community partnerships work best, noting that “once you take it back, you have to maintain it.”
Beyond the PSA model, Ramsey pointed to a possible template being Philly Rising, a pilot program that coordinates the actions of city agencies to help neighborhoods deal with multi-faceted crime and nuisance issues.
“I don’t consider [quality of life problems] to be minor,” he said. “We have to be more aggressive in terms of dealing with those kinds of problems.”
Boots (and cameras) on the ground
To help stem the tide of crime, Ramsey said the PPD is recruiting new officers, with one academy class currently in training, set for a March graduation, and another class primed to begin in January.
Moreover, he has set a higher educational standard for new recruits. Sixty college credits are now required for entry, bringing the PPD in line with other peer police departments.
Ramsey was asked if departmental dollars would be better spent on human resources as opposed to electronic ones, but Ramsey countered that video surveillance has been “invaluable.” It has provided a record of the crime for later investigation and for dissemination via traditional and social media outlets, where Ramsey said the hit rate has been “incredible.”
“They’re a force multiplier,” he said, encouraging residents and business owners to install their own.
Asked what he sees as the community’s role in crime prevention, Ramsey boiled it down to a word: Partnership.
“We need the community, and the community needs us,” he said. “Success has to be maintained over time; only the community can do that.”
Councilwoman Bass, who hosted a similar “crime summit” with leaders of the 14th and 39th Districts in September, said that she has observed a renewed interest in residents working together to combat crime since then.
“When we came into the office, we knew crime was a challenge in Eighth District,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll be able to put a dent in it.”
Southwest Germantown resident and activist Allison Weiss, who along with Boykin helped organize Tuesday’s meeting, was pleased with the turnout and response.
“It was great to see so many people who are interested in our community and doing positive things to make it better,” she said.
Germantown resident Anthony Knight said that community involvement will be a key component in any initiative.
“What we need to do as a community is be out in our streets to protect them,” he said, “not high up in our houses.”
Standing before the group, Craighead reaffirmed the importance of widespread participation in restoring neighborhoods, making plain his commitment to being responsive to community issues, which he related was a personal promise that he made before assuming command.
“We will do it: We will help you,” he said. “All you have to do is call us.”