Ramsey vows to ‘improve the quality of life’ for frustrated La Salle University neighbors

 Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey responds to residents' concerns at town-and-gown meeting near La Salle University. (Matthew Grady/for NewsWorks)

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey responds to residents' concerns at town-and-gown meeting near La Salle University. (Matthew Grady/for NewsWorks)

Addressing the upper echelons of the Philadelphia Police Department, Deanna Cardwell recalled her experience with the off-campus carousing associated with La Salle University’s homecoming. Cardwell said she saw police patrolling, but in her words, “That’s all they were doing.”

For Cardwell, a resident of Olney Avenue in the Belfield neighborhood, the episode seemed indicative of a larger problem: Illegal activity occurs in off-campus student housing, and with cops refusing to get out of their cars, the result is that students feels above the law.

“The students just get a pat on their whatever,” she said, suggesting the residents face arrest when trying to restore some sense of order in their community. “They get drunk, they trample on my flowers. I’m sick of it.”

They want to be heard

Some residents in neighborhoods bordering La Salle University are upset over what they believe is a lack of responsiveness from both police and the college.

Frustrations are ongoing, so Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass hosted a public meeting on Wednesday along with what amounted to the PPD’s entire chain of command for the area.

In attendance at Germantown Community Health Services on East Penn Street were 35th District Capt. Joseph Fredericksdorf, Northwest Division Commanding Officer Inspector James Kelly and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

At the meeting, residents described a variety of ills: Fights, underage drinking, drug sales, public intoxication, public urination, public vomiting, vandalized cars and property, noise that continues into the wee hours, along with reports of various insults, which were said to include various racial epithets.

Other residents related difficulty with local police, citing both and slow and ineffectual responses, and described episodes where they were cursed at by angry cops.

The nadir of the misbehavior occurred when 19th Street resident Henrietta Harris was allegedly confronted by a student and punched in the face.

After a sizable police investigation, the suspect, who officials would not identify, was arrested and charged with assault. Harris said that the preliminary hearing for her assailant is scheduled for Jan. 8.

Not a new issue

Officials have known about the town-and-gown concerns for months.

Responding to residents’ complaints, staffers from Bass’ office met with local police earlier in the year to address the various quality of life and criminal issues they faced.

From there, a list of principal landlords who catered to students in the La Salle area were invited to meet in October with a host of city, state and university representatives including Bass, Fredericksdorf, Licenses and Inspections and the Liquor Control Board.

Approximately 25 landlords were invited, according to Ray Jones, deputy chief of staff for Bass, who noted that about a dozen attended.

Jones said that the theme of the event was “due diligence,” with landlords being asked to take proactive measures with student renters such as including behavioral provisions in the lease. Along with this carrot, city officials suggested that the resultant stick would be citations and the possible revocation of rental licenses by the city.

Jones said that were indications of receptiveness by the landlords, some of whom reported not knowing about the incidents. Regardless, Jones saw this as an opportunity to foster relationships with both the landlords and the residents.

“We have to let the community know how important this is,” said Jones. “This is serious.”

Crime in the campus area

In addition to the long-term strategy of building cooperation with landlords, Fredericksdorf noted that significant police activity has occurred in the La Salle area since the beginning of the semester.

There have been dozens of arrests for robberies, aggravated assault, burglaries and narcotics, and any run-ins with La Salle students are reported to campus authorities.

Arthur Grover, vice-president for security and safety at La Salle, explained that the university is doing what it can to protect students and residents. It has a private, unarmed, 70-member security force whose authority does not extend beyond the campus; a Philadelphia police officer is hired on a supplemental basis to patrol on and off the campus.

Noting that statistics suggest that most incidents occur off campus, Grover said that the city officer detailed to La Salle is often assigned to patrol the neighborhood.

He estimated that an eighth of his department $4 million budget is allocated to neighborhood safety. In response, Bass suggested that this number might be adjusted, given the effect that students are having on the surrounding communities.

“We do have a partnership going on, and we think we’re making progress,” said Fredericksdorf. “It hasn’t solved everything, obviously, but we’re working in that direction.”

Continued dialogue

While there are longer-term plans in play, residents are seeking relief immediately.

Acknowledging the broad challenges faced by police in the 35th District – which stretches from West Oak Lanes to Logan, Olney and North Philadelphia – Inspector Kelly said that residents can expect to see changes right away, hinting at heightened deployment for an extended period of time.

“We’re going to step it up,” Kelly said. “The actions will speak louder than the words.”

Fredericksdorf urged residents to log their complainants with police and with the state Liquor Control Enforcement, which allows authorities to track problem individuals and residences, and aids in later prosecution.

“The more you do that, the better we’ll be at the process, the more results we’ll get,” he said.

For his part, Commissioner Ramsey said that he dealt with similar town-and-gown issues when he led the Washington, D.C. police department. He promoted the ongoing construction of broad alliances, and encouraged residents to support Harris by attending her January court date.

Ramsey also pledged to return for a spring meeting to follow-up with residents, saying, “The bottom line is we will improve the quality of life in your neighborhood.”

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