In Kensington, violence overshadows concerns of police misconduct

Con­cerns about vi­ol­ence domin­t­ated a meet­ing with the In­tern­al Af­fairs Unit last week.

Phil­adelphia po­lice of­fi­cials brought the latest in­stall­ment in a series of meet­ings with the de­part­ment’s In­tern­al Af­fairs Unit to res­id­ents in one of the most crime-rid­den com­munit­ies last week.

Deputy Com­mis­sion­er Steph­en T. John­son, of the city’s in­tern­al af­fairs unit, edu­cated a room full of loc­al res­id­ents in how to com­mu­nic­ate ef­fect­ively with his de­part­ment.

Yet, when the time came for the pub­lic to present the of­fi­cials with ques­tions and con­cerns, res­id­ents con­fron­ted John­son with com­ments about vi­ol­ence in the com­munity — vi­ol­ence that erup­ted in a fatal shoot­ing less than an hour after the meet­ing and just blocks away.

John­son led the meet­ing with the goal of help­ing res­id­ents un­der­stand how to com­mu­nic­ate con­cerns about po­lice pro­ced­ure or the ac­tions of po­lice of­ficers back to in­tern­al af­fairs.

John­son dis­cussed how every com­plaint against po­lice of­ficers is re­viewed by in­tern­al af­fairs of­ficers and not only could an of­ficer be rep­rim­anded for im­prop­er con­duct, but the of­ficer could be crim­in­ally charged.

“This job is a pub­lic trust,” said John­son. “It’s all about the com­munity hav­ing faith in us … We are the good guys, once we cross that line, we are no bet­ter than the crim­in­als we are lock­ing up.”

Asked about why the po­lice de­cided to hold these meet­ings, John­son noted that there have been some re­cent, high-pro­file cases of cor­rup­tion fo­cus­ing on mem­bers of the Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment.

To com­bat these is­sues, last Oc­to­ber, he said, Com­mis­sion­er Charles Ram­sey provided in­tern­al af­fairs with 26 new of­ficers. John­son said this full staff will help law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials to po­lice their own.

“This is something that’s long over­due,” he said. “We are go­ing through so much ad­versity now and one of the things we have to do bet­ter is in­tern­al af­fairs.” 

Yet, in Kens­ing­ton, near where the neigh­bor­hood meets Port Rich­mond, loc­als seemed less con­cerned with how to fill out pa­per­work and po­lice forms.

In­stead, those in at­tend­ance wanted to know how po­lice dealt with shootouts on area blocks or why law en­force­ment of­fi­cials couldn’t re­move bod­ies of murder vic­tims from the street more quickly in or­der to hide them from the eyes of chil­dren and the eld­erly.

It seems, if no one is killed or in­jured, shootouts in the area seem to go un­re­por­ted or per­haps even un­in­vestig­ated by po­lice, res­id­ents said.

In fact, this point was vividly il­lus­trated about a half-hour later and only a few blocks away from the Sal­va­tion Army build­ing at 1924 E. Al­legheny Ave. where the meet­ing was held, when a man lay dead after be­ing shot by po­lice.

That shoot­ing, in which of­ficers re­spon­ded to a re­port of a man with a gun, oc­curred at about 8:15 p.m. on the 2000 block of East Birch Street.

Al­bert Pur­nell, 19, of the 1500 block of May­land Street in the city’s West Oak Lane neigh­bor­hood, was pro­nounced dead at the scene at about 8:29 p.m.

Po­lice al­lege he bran­dished a gun at two of­ficers. The gun Pur­nell had al­legedly poin­ted at the of­ficers was re­covered at the scene, said Of­ficer Jill­ian Rus­sell, spokes­wo­man for the Phil­adelphia Po­lice.

Monday’s com­munity meet­ing ended just be­fore 8 p.m.

One group of area res­id­ents who at­ten­ded last week’s meet­ing had con­cerns about how po­lice could stop ran­dom shoot­ings in the area.

They be­lieved that, if no one ended up shot or dead, po­lice seemed un­able to stop drug deal­ers from ex­chan­ging fire in their neigh­bor­hood.

“They own the corners,” said a con­cerned res­id­ent of Kens­ing­ton, who asked only to be called Car­ol. “It’s just dan­ger­ous for the kids.”

She said that of­ten she and her fam­ily hear rival drug deal­ers ex­chan­ging gun­fire in the area of Jasper and Somer­set streets.

“But, when the po­lice come, there’s noth­ing left to show them be­cause they (drug deal­ers) take off and hide,” she con­tin­ued.

Capt. Thomas Dav­id­son, of the city’s 24th Po­lice Dis­trict, said he would in­vest­ig­ate her con­cerns and have po­lice patrol the area.

Bill Sum­mers, North Phil­adelphia site co­ordin­at­or for the city’s Weed and Seed pro­gram, ex­pressed a con­cern that he’d heard from oth­ers in the com­munity.

Of­ten, he said, vic­tims of shoot­ings are left in the open while po­lice in­vest­ig­ate an in­cid­ent.

Though, Sum­mers said, he un­der­stood po­lice were do­ing their jobs, he wanted to ex­press con­cern for the young­sters and eld­erly res­id­ents of the com­munity who are too of­ten con­fron­ted with the harsh real­it­ies of street vi­ol­ence.

Capt. Frank Vanore Jr., of the 25th Po­lice Dis­trict, was on hand dur­ing the meet­ing and said, un­for­tu­nately, due to the nature of in­vest­ig­a­tion and forensic work that needs to be done, after a per­son has been de­clared de­ceased, po­lice need to leave the body in place in or­der to study the crime scene.

“If there is no sign of life, we have to leave them there,” said Vanore. “But, of course, we don’t want to leave that out in the open for chil­dren or any­one else to see.” 

At the end of the meet­ing, John­son dis­cussed how res­id­ents could make com­plaints to in­tern­al af­fairs.

Com­plaint forms are avail­able at any po­lice dis­trict — a per­son doesn’t need to go to the dis­trict where the of­ficer they are com­plain­ing about is as­signed — or down­load the form from www.philly­po­

Also, res­id­ents can con­tact in­tern­al af­fairs dir­ectly at the of­fice’s mis­con­duct hot­line at 215-685-3009 or through e-mail at po­­mis­sion­

Mostly, John­son said, these com­plaints can be made an­onym­ously, but any­one leav­ing a com­plaint would need to leave some kind of con­tact in­form­a­tion so that in­tern­al af­fairs in­vest­ig­at­ors can thor­oughly eval­u­ate the claim and get fur­ther state­ments, if ne­ces­sary, to ob­tain ad­di­tion­al in­form­a­tion.

“We need to look at the to­tal­ity of the cir­cum­stances,” said John­son.

After the meet­ing, Car­ol, who was con­cerned about shoot­ings in the neigh­bor­hood, said she ap­pre­ci­ated the of­ficers tak­ing the time to listen to res­id­ents, es­pe­cially here, where crim­in­al is­sues plague the com­munity day in and day out.

“I just hope something good comes of this,” she said.



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