In a show of support for the community, police representatives addressed resident concerns directly last week during a meeting of the Port Richmond on Patrol and Civic Group at Samuels Recreation Center.
During the Sept. 27 meeting, held at the center at Gaul and Tioga streets — one of several area playgrounds where neighbors say hooligans are known to gather for late night drinking parties — it seemed that a violent mob attack from Sept. 9 was still fresh in many minds.
At the opening of the meeting, PROPAC president Patty Pat Kozlowski made it a point to clarify the details of a recent incident in which Port Richmond resident Mark LaVelle claimed to have been attacked inside his Indiana Avenue home after an angry mob broke down the front door.
“Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet or on Facebook,” warned Kozlowski.
As the meeting began, residents said the incident began due to long-brewing racial tensions in the community or drunken violence perpetuated by youth coming into the neighborhood from other areas of the city.
On hand to address these rumors, Lt. Ron Ball of the 24th Police District said police don’t believe race was a factor in the incident.
“We are still gathering information, but I can’t say it was racial,” said Ball as the crowd quieted. “It was retaliation; that’s what it was.”
“It could have been over a stolen bike … You can’t reason it all out when someone does something like this,” continued the lieutenant.
Almost immediately, residents wanted to know if there was any information to suggest that there could be additional attacks, but Ball said there was no evidence of that.
Another concern brought to light by many in attendance was a perception that Port Richmond was somehow getting ignored by police.
It seemed many in the audience felt that, due to potentially higher crime rates in surrounding communities like Kensington and Hunting Park, police were often busy there, leaving Port Richmond residents without support and making it seem that emergency calls to police weren’t resolved quickly enough.
“You say we are your eyes and ears, but you never come,” yelled one woman from the back of the crowd as residents shared concerns.
However, Ball refuted this concern and said that all areas of the city are equal in the eyes of the law.
“When you have an unruly crowd in the neighborhood, it’s tough,” said Ball. “But, having a large community turnout like this is a big help.”
Residents have long complained that area parks, notably Samuel Recreation Center, as well as Stokely Playground at E. Thompson Street and Indiana Avenue — where the Sept. 9 incident is said to have originated — and A & W playground at Almond and Westmoreland streets, have long been problem areas.
During last week’s meeting, neighbors said they were often unsatisfied about police presence in these areas.
Acknowledging that individuals gathering at local parks for drinking is a problem, Ball said that, while he wouldn’t address numbers of personnel, there would be special teams of officers watching these parks much more frequently.
“I don’t think you’re going to see those areas unmanned anymore,” he promised the audience.
While Ball claimed police have stepped up enforcement throughout the community, Maura Kennedy, a representative from the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, told the crowd that the office has also increased enforcement by targeting blighted properties throughout the community.
At the conclusion of the meeting, many seemed pleased by the show of support from both the police and L&I.
“I feel a lot better about it, this was really, really good,” said Phyllis Hackimer, a local resident.
D.J. Ottinger, a Monmouth Street resident who is married to a Philadelphia police officer, said she appreciates the show of support, but she hopes that law enforcement isn’t considered the only solution to neighborhood ills.
“Parents need to take responsibility for their children,” she said. “I worry about the neighborhood, but I worry about the officers’ safety as well.” ••
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org