Crime in Northeast Philadelphia and in the city as a whole is “moving in the right direction,” according to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
During a luncheon last Tuesday hosted by the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Ramsey addressed crime levels, an increase in residential burglary in the Northeast and the recent string of officer-involved shootings.
Ramsey told about 100 people who gathered at Knowlton Mansion in Fox Chase that crime in Philadelphia was “down in every major category” except for sexual assault and rape. The FBI recently broadened its definition of “rape,” which Ramsey said skewed this year’s statistics to show an increase.
“I only throw that out there you that you have the context,” Ramsey said. “That’s not to say it’s not a concern.”
According to Ramsey, crime levels in the Northeast, specifically, also dropped since last year.
“The numbers here mirror the numbers I’ve mentioned for the city,” Ramsey said.
Burglary is his “biggest concern” in Northeast Philadelphia, he said. While commercial burglary is down, residential burglary increased compared to last year.
“We really do encourage people to look out for each other,” Ramsey said, adding that residents should report any suspicious activities in their neighborhoods to police.
Ramsey told the crowd that the recent string of officer-involved shootings in the city prompted him to ask the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to review the Department’s policies concerning deadly force.
Fifty-two suspects were shot by Philadelphia police in 2012, an almost 50 percent increase from the previous year. Of those shot, 15 suspects later died.
He was quick to note that this was not part of a “civil rights investigation,” but that he hopes the review conducted by COPS will alleviate the concerns of watchdog groups that have called into question the increase in police shootings.
Mayor Michael Nutter initially was scheduled to speak at the luncheon instead of Ramsey, but a scheduling conflict prevented Nutter from attending, marking the third time this year that the mayor canceled a planned speaking engagement with the GNPCC. Event organizers, however, said that they were just as pleased to host Ramsey.
“When the mayor’s people told us he couldn’t make it, we jumped at the chance to get Ramsey,” Kent Lufkin, Chairman of the GNPCC board of directors, said. “There has been a long and close relationship between the chamber and the police.”
Dolly Trainer, director of development of the Cranaleith Spiritual Center in Somerton, shared Lufkin’s sentiments.
“We’re very blessed to have him and to have the police force to protect the city,” Trainer said. “The risk they take for other people is very important.”
Ramsey said that he was committed to serving Northeast Philadelphia, and that he appreciates the relationship between business owners and the police.
“Business is the lifeblood of a city, and it’s not just about Center City,” Ramsey said. “The area served business in the Northeast Chamber of Commerce is critically important to us.”
The commissioner also spoke about heightened security at large events, which he said was more important than ever in light of the recent bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon.
“I’m very impressed at how Philadelphians are stepping up,” Ramsey said, noting that the police department has received an increased number of calls about suspicious items or activities since the bombings.
During a question and answer session after ending the luncheon, Ramsey addressed the recent Supreme Court decision allowing DNA swabbing for people under arrest. When asked if the Philadelphia Police Department would take advantage of the now-constitutional police practice, Ramsey said, “Absolutely.”
“I was very pleased and a bit surprised,” Ramsey said of the ruling. “I think it’s going to help us get a lot of bad guys off the street.” ••