Councilman Johnson and other community leaders host community safety meeting

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Also in attendance were 17th Police District Sgt. George Rechner, Philadelphia District Attorney Spokesperson Leigh Owens, Chief Deputy General of the Gun Violence Task Force Brandon O’Malley and Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy.

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and 17th police district Sgt. George Rechner speak at Wednesday night’s Community Safety Meeting

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson held a public community meeting with various community leaders last Wednesday to discuss recent violence in the neighborhood at Universal Charter Institute on the 1400 block of Catharine Street.

“The purpose of this meeting is to address the issues and concerns of residents regarding violence in the neighborhood,” he said. Also in attendance were 17th Police District Sgt. George Rechner, Philadelphia District Attorney Spokesperson Leigh Owens, Chief Deputy General of the Gun Violence Task Force Brandon O’Malley and Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy.

Rechman said that while “overall shooting was down” in the surrounding area, “we are seeing sporadic gun violence” as well.

“We see this every summer,” said Conroy. “The level gun violence is on the uptick. As soon as the weather breaks, everybody comes out, the guns pop up and there are shootings. We knew that and we knew these things were going to happen, but we don’t have a crystal ball and we’re doing everything that we can and we are continuing to do it.”

When the meeting started off, many residents raised concerns about suspicious behaviour and other incidents in the vicinity of the Sunoco gas station on Broad and Catharine.

“Consider it reported,” Conroy said. “I’ll talk to the nuisance task force tomorrow. You don’t have to call, I’ll take care of it tomorrow.”

However, Owens said, in future situations, residents can reach out to the city’s public nuisance task force to report similar problems. The contact for the task force, Andrew Jenneman, can be reached at 215–686–5819 or Andrew.Jenemann@phila.gov.

O’Malley and Conroy used their speaking time to talk extensively about issues with getting witnesses to talk.

“It’s not an easy thing to do to have young men and women and their parents allow them to come forward and speak because they’re concerned with retaliation,” Conroy said. “So what does that mean? Does it mean we close our tents and go home? No. There are different investigative techniques we can utilize and we are now utilizing, but it’s not something that can happen overnight. It’s taking time, we are dedicating our resources to this. I have several lawyers who are focused specifically in this area and we are doing everything we can.”

O’Malley echoed Conroy’s sentiment.

“Without the people who are willing to say what they saw happen,” he said. “We’re extremely restricted.”

Conroy talked about the city’s witness relocation program, which relocates witnesses who may be testifying against alleged criminals in court to a safe location in an effort to avoid retaliation.

Conroy said that the level of violence on the streets of certain parts of South Philadelphia “is not random.”

“It’s very targeted, it’s very organized, people know what’s going on and everybody is — we know exactly where the bones are buried and where this is coming from. But it’s just not that easy because people are scared to come forward.”

Conroy encouraged residents to purchase security cameras for their homes and register them with SafeCam, the city’s database for resident cameras, which allows city officials to reach out to residents to acquire footage of their security cameras if necessary. Conroy said that in many cases, cops can identify alleged criminals from security camera footage alone, having encountered many of them in previous incidents.

“Guess what that avoids?” Conroy said. “That avoids me having to grab some 16-year-old young man and his mom coming down to my office giving a statement and putting him in a courtroom where the shooter’s there.”

If you are involved in or witness a crime, you can call the Philadelphia Police Department’s anonymous tip line at 215–686–8477. For more information about safecam visit safecam.phillypolice.com.