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Philadelphia Leaders Applaud Police Chief’s ‘Aggressive’ Reform

The Philadelphia Tribune, News Report , Larry Miller Posted: Jul 09, 2009

Like other major American cities, Philadelphia has a problem with violent crime and dealing with that problem is not only the job of law enforcement officers, but also the communities that are under constant assault.

When Mayor Michael Nutter appointed Charles Ramsey as the city’s police commissioner, it was with the expressed mandate that violent crime had to be reduced and in January 2008, Ramsey’s aggressive strategy was announced to a public weary of bloodshed.

Midway into 2009, the perception in the minds of many community leaders is that the Philadelphia Police Department under Ramsey’s leadership is working hard and doing a good job, especially in a time of budget cuts.

Moreover, Ramsey’s crime strategy appears to be having an impact, especially in African-American neighborhoods where violent crime is the highest.

“I think it’s working,” said Anthony Murphy, executive director of Town Watch Integrated Services. “But we should be aware that crime is cyclical. I also think that Ramsey was smart when he made the police officers on the streets more visible and worked to create a stronger partnership with the community. He’s still working on that, but we need more from the residents. People have to realize that it’s not all on the police department. These are our neighborhoods.”

Ramsey’s strategy identified the police districts that exhibited the highest levels of violence crime — nine sections of the city designated as Targeted Enforcement Zones.

A major redeployment of personnel followed, along with a public release of the identities of the city’s most wanted fugitives, many of whom were African-American males.

Ramsey said in a previous interview that crime in Philadelphia is a problem rooted in the African-American community and it is the Black community that is ultimately going to resolve it.

He said it is the same story in many of the nation’s major cities, where, although African Americans make up about 14 percent of the population, we are almost half of those serving time in prison.

“Let’s face it, it’s our problem and it’s up to us to solve it,” Ramsey said. “

According to Police Department statistics, there were 392 homicides in 2007 and the figure for 2008 remains at 332. As of Tribune press time, the number of homicides in Philadelphia is 144 compared to 163 — an 11 percent reduction for the same time last year.

There was also the employment of constitutional stop and frisk, a somewhat controversial tactic that raised some eyebrows.

But Everett A. Gillison, Deputy Mayor of Public Safety, said the police officers are doing exactly what they said they would do, employ lawful stop-question-and-frisk tactics.

According to Gillison, in 2007 from Jan. 1 to Oct. 12, there were 106,000 pedestrian stops by police conducting investigations. For 2008, for the same period of time, that number increased to 170,241 pedestrian stops, an increased of 60 percent.

Last year the police confiscated 5,386 guns and expect to increase that number by 5 percent. According to department statistics, pedestrian stops are up 58 percent and vehicle stops are up 13 percent. The total number of illegal guns seized is up 1.5 percent and the homicide clearance rate is at nearly 75 percent.

“Is the commissioner’s plan working? Absolutely, there’s no question in my mind that it’s having an impact,” said City Councilman Frank Rizzo. “Murder is hard to fight, especially when it happens behind closed doors, no one can fight that but having a very visible police presence is making a difference. But we still have too many illegal guns out there. I think Ramsey is doing a great job but we still need more police officers because of the high attrition rate within the department. With budget cuts, I think this latest class of graduates from the police academy is going to be it for a while. We’re not replacing retiring and resigning officers quickly enough.”

Joe Grace, executive director for CeaseFire PA, also said that the easy accessibility of illegal handguns is a major component of what generates crime in Philadelphia.

He said Ramsey’s strategies seem to be having an impact but that reasonable gun laws in the commonwealth should be part of a long-term crime fighting plan.

“My overall thought is that we should support Commissioner Ramsey,” he said. “He brought a new aggressiveness to the department and they’ve been working hard to reduce gun violence. But gun violence is a statewide problem not just limited to Philadelphia, where illegal handguns fuel most of the violent crime. We’re making progress but we do need reasonable and common sense gun laws in this state. We’ve had 13 law enforcement officers killed in Pennsylvania recently. One was an FBI agent and 12 were police officers, five of which were killed in this city. Law enforcement officers are in harms way every day and we need long term crime fighting strategies.”

Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work Inc. at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Social Policy and Practice, believes that the current crime fighting strategies in the city should focus more on prevention. He also said that the community should understand its overall role in policing.

“The crime fighting strategy from a strength-based perspective has been implemented in a manner in which crime can only be prevented from a collaborative perspective,” he said. “So in that sense, to date the strategies and tactics under Commissioner Ramsey have been good when one observes the aspect of a community policing philosophy, working in tandem with commanding officers and members of the larger community.”

He said that community policing has provided an opportunity for police officers and the community residents to work through the profound challenges of trust versus mistrust issues that so often plague both. In his opinion police officers and the community have begun to know one another on a professional and personal level.

There has also been an increase in collaboration with families, schools, courts and clergy. Lassiter said there needs to be an increase in collaboration with neighborhood residents who have not engaged and a better job of seeking out those potential partnerships within the communities that have gone untapped.

“The public, however, needs to know that to prevent crime, you must understand it, where it happens, when it happens, and by whom,” he said. “From that perspective, all should be held accountable, and all stakeholders need to do their part in the intervention and prevention of crime. The community needs to do a better job of speaking up and out with regards to crime, the police department and others need to protect these citizens when they do, and police officers need to speak out with regards to their colleagues who are disguised as police officers but whose core values of honor, service and integrity are nonexistent.”

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