nt some answers and so does City Councilman Bobby Henon.
They question if their police district gets an equitable allocation of resources compared to other districts around the city, and they are skeptical that the various neighborhoods within the 15th get equitable police coverage.
Lacking precise answers to these concerns, Henon and his constituents have refueled a long-running campaign to divide the 15th district, hoping to ensure that folks in all parts of the geographically large and highly populated Northeast Philly territory get their fair share.
“We’re going to keep the pressure on and make sure that the northern parts of the 15th district have resources allocated equitably, because the northern part of the 15th feels a bit of a disconnect in the numbers of police cars on the streets,” Henon told the Northeast Times.
“There’s no disputing the fact that there’s more trouble in the southern end than the northern end,” added Donny Smith, president of the Mayfair Civic Association. “The idea is to split the district in half and put maybe seventy [percent of cops] in the south and thirty in the north. The goal is to keep a set amount in each end and not have them running up and down Frankford Avenue all the time.”
Folks have been tossing around the idea for decades. In late 1989, 18 Northeast civic groups joined forces to create the United Civic Associations of the Northeast (UCAN), which identified a lack of police coverage as its No. 1 issue. The coalition threatened to block streets near Cottman and Frankford avenues in protest. Then-Councilwoman Joan Krajewski organized a public meeting for angry residents and city officials. Soon after, then-Police Commissioner Willie L. Williams assigned 21 new cops to the Northeast, including six to the 15th district. But the district remained intact.
In its current form, the district spans basically the lower half of the Northeast from Roosevelt Boulevard to the Delaware River. Major neighborhoods include Holmesburg, Mayfair, Tacony, Wissinoming, Bridesburg, Frankford and Northwood. The territory covers about 11 square miles, which pales in comparison to the 17 square miles of the neighboring 8th district, but remains among the largest of the city’s 21 police districts.
Population is denser in the 15th than the 8th or other large districts. As a result, the district gets more calls for service than any other in the city. While some smaller districts see a higher percentage of violent crime, the 15th routinely sees the highest volume of all major crimes. Historically, in fact, the 15th has more crime than the Northeast’s other three police districts combined. The Northeast Times regularly publishes a listing of the major crimes reported in the 2nd, 7th, 8th and 15th districts, with type of crime, date and location.
“The men and women in the 15th do a great job, but we are severely understaffed in the number of officers,” Henon said.
As a matter of policy, the police department does not disclose deployment statistics for security reasons. Yet, neighbors can tell that the officers are being stretched thin. According to Smith, low-priority complaints such as disorderly crowds, loud music or barking dogs seem to get placed on the back burner sometimes. By the time police arrive, the problem is gone and the call is resolved as “unfounded.” In frustration, some neighbors stop calling 911 for “minor” complaints, which makes the problem worse because there’s no record of it ever happening.
Under Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey’s Police Service Area (PSA) deployment model, officers in each district are supposed to be assigned to a designated patrol area within the district. The 15th has three PSAs.
“You’re supposed to have ‘x’ amount of cops in each. But what happens when a call comes out and it could be anything? A lieutenant can release a cop to [go to] the other end of the district,” Smith said.
“We’ve been trying this for over twenty-five years and it’s not working.”
To try something new, Smith invited leaders of the district’s many civic associations to a meeting last month where he proposed splitting the 15th district. General response to the idea was positive. The group invited Henon to a second meeting where they launched a signature drive. According to Smith, backers include civic, business and Town Watch leaders from Mayfair, Tacony and Holmesburg. Bridesburg leaders also support it, according to Henon.
A digital petition on Henon’s website had logged 254 signatures as of yesterday. The councilman and civic groups are also circulating printed petitions. In addition, Henon has requested official data from the police department regarding the relative size of the 15th district, along with its staffing, civilian population, police workload, response times and emergency call outcomes. Henon awaits a response.
Mayor Michael Nutter, in his proposed city operating budget for fiscal 2015, has asked Council to approve 400 additional police officers. Henon and other Council members support that, but cannot dictate where additional cops are deployed. Due to retirements and other attrition, the police department’s actual manpower is already below its budgeted amount.
“We’re always going to be chasing full staffing,” Henon said.
Those advocating for the split haven’t even reached a consensus on one big question: where will the boundary be drawn? Initially, Smith proposed using Levick Street, creating a north-south split with the police station in the middle. Then someone else suggested using Harbison Avenue as the boundary, creating more of an east-west divide.
“Maybe the [15th district] resources would be split and we’d have a 15th district annex,” Henon said.
“It’s still to be determined,” Smith said. “We’re not cops, and there’s only certain stats they’re willing to release to civilians. The real answer is to get more cops in the city. Nobody disputes that.” ••