Northeast Times

Henon refuels campaign to divide 15th district

Time to split?: The 15th Po­lice Dis­trict spans the lower half of the North­east from Roosevelt Boulevard to the Delaware River and in­cludes Holmes­burg, May­fair, Ta­cony, Wissi­nom­ing, Brides­burg, Frank­ford and North­wood. His­tor­ic­ally, the 15th has more crime than the North­east’s oth­er three po­lice dis­tricts com­bined. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF GOOGLE MAPS / GRAPH­IC BY MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA

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.” ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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