Inspector Benjamin Naish did something unusual recently when asked by a news reporter to assess his challenges as the new commander of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Northeast Division.
Naish picked up a newspaper. And he actually quoted from it.
The article was a Feb. 24 Philadelphia Inquirer piece about the city’s shrinking middle class and growing impoverished class. Naish explained that there’s a strong connection between the economic condition of a community and its crime.
“There are more people who are living in hard economic times and that’s the largest indicator why we have certain crime challenges,” Naish said. “I think the trend of the Northeast seeing more violent crime is an indicator of the shrinking middle class. I’m not saying this is the only area of the city experiencing this, but it is definitely reflected in the Northeast.”
Aside from the subject matter, Naish’s interest in the article and willingness to harvest information from it was telling in itself. After all, it’s no secret that a lot of cops don’t think much of newspapers. But Naish is not like many cops. He’s a communicator.
At one point of his 25-year career, he was the department’s primary liaison to the news media as commander of the Public Affairs Unit. Now he oversees all four patrol districts in the Northeast as well as the division’s detectives. And he’s turning to the community to help them all do their jobs.
“The importance of knowing what’s going on in your neighborhood, on your block can’t be emphasized enough,” Naish told the Northeast Times. “Police can’t be everywhere, but can respond to what neighbors see. Police also have a stake in the community. Neighbors have to be aware of what doesn’t look right. And if something doesn’t look right, you have to speak up.”
Naish was appointed to the Northeast Division upon his promotion to inspector at the end of January. Most recently, he served 6-1/2 years as captain of Southwest Detectives. Previously, he was captain in the 25th and 18th districts, as well as Public Affairs.
He was a lieutenant in Internal Affairs and a sergeant in the 25th district. He was a patrol cop in the former 23rd district, which subsequently merged into the 22nd. He succeeds Inspector Michael Cochrane as Northeast Division commander.
“There are six patrol divisions where those of us who want to be part of this organizations really want to be,” Naish said. “You have a hand in everything that the department does for that section of the city.”
For Naish, it’s something of a long-awaited homecoming. He lived in the Northeast as a child and attended A.L. Fitzpatrick School before his family moved out of the area during his high school years. He graduated from Rutgers and has a master’s in public safety management from St. Joseph’s. He also completed professional programs at the FBI Academy and through Northwestern University.
Naish isn’t the only new commander in the division. Capt. Shawn Trush now heads Northeast Detectives, with his predecessor, Capt. Frank Bachmayer, reassigned temporarily to the 35th district. According to police sources, Bachmayer is expected to be named the permanent replacement in the 7th district for Capt. Joe Zaffino, who served his last day in uniform on Feb. 28 and will retire formally later this year. Previously, Bachmayer headed the Northeast’s 15th district.
Meanwhile, in the 8th district, Capt. Len Ditchkofsky is expected to retire Aug. 1. His successor has not been named. According to Naish, the captains have a big impact on how the community views the police department. Each month, the district commanders host town hall meetings, while their lieutenants hold several public Police Service Area meetings in each district.
“The captains are really the critical front of the police department,” Naish said. “The public can have a great amount of contact with them through meetings.”
Naish’s first big meeting in the Northeast was his guest appearance on Feb. 18 at the Lawncrest Community Association, where folks wanted to know about six recent murders in the neighborhood. In one case, killers bound and shot three victims inside a rowhome. In another incident, gunmen shot and killed a woman and her adult son in their home. In the third case, a man was sitting in a parked car when someone shot him through the window.
“The executive team of this department is very aware of the significant challenges the 2nd district is facing and they are providing extra resources to deal with these challenges,” Naish said. “The Homicide Unit is working very hard to bring those jobs in and make arrests in those terrible murders.”
Police still believe that the sudden spike in murders is an aberration, not the start of a trend.
“There’s no question the number of homicides is out of proportion with what they’ve normally been,” Naish said. “I think those two recent incidents accounting for five murders are an anomaly for the area. I wouldn’t say they’re a trend. They could happen anywhere in the city.”
In the bigger picture, the inspector seeks to build upon recent slight declines in overall crime and property crime (such as thefts and burglaries), while keeping violent crime (such as robberies and assaults) from growing.
“I think we’re using sound tactics and we’re getting cars out there and robberies will go down,” Naish said.
“The Far Northeast is fighting property crime. Fortunately, they don’t see much violent crime.”
In either case, communication is paramount. Tipsters can contact police in various ways. There’s a phone number (216-686-TIPS), a text account (PPDTIP) and a form on the phillypolice.com website. Twitter users can contact the @PhillyPolice handle.
“If you’ve got specific detailed information, don’t hesitate to go to the website and go to the tip box and be as specific as you can. It will get investigated,” Naish said. ••