Two new authorities representing regions east of Broad Street have partnered to help counter crime in their communities.
Last Thursday, the tandem, comprised of recently elected state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler of the 184th Legislative District and Capt. Brian Hartzell, the newly appointed commander of the 3rd Police District, hosted the first of monthly crime statistics and prevention meetings being held at the politician’s office at 9th and Ritner streets.
“I think that it really is important for officials, whether they are elected officials like myself or other officials in power, to be directly in touch with folks that they serve,” Fiedler said.
Since constituents have brought various community-related issues to Fiedler’s attention since she took office, the state representative decided to kick off these regular conversations with law enforcement and neighbors.
“We do hear from a lot of people,” she said. “A lot of people call and come to us and share concerns that they have, and sometimes these concerns are related to illegal activity or things that would be law enforcement or police matters, and we take those concerns seriously.”
Fiedler, who started collaborating with Hartzell a few weeks ago, says some of the concerns brought to her attention include graffiti, robberies, acts of violence and drug activity.
During the meeting, residents of the Lower Moyamensing and Whitman neighborhoods expressed perturbations surrounding similar issues.
At the start of the meeting, Hartzell provided crime figures reported from mid-January to mid-February throughout the 3rd Police District, as statistical cycles are broken down into 28-day periods.
In the 28 days leading up to Sunday, Feb. 17, there was one reported homicide,
two rapes, seven robberies with a gun, 17 other robberies, six aggravated assaults involving a gun and 14 other aggravated assaults.
While some areas of violent crime, including robberies and aggravated assault by gun, have increased since the prior 28 days, aggravated assault with other weapons and rapes had decreased.
For violent crimes specifically, 24 arrests were made in the last 28 days, which is three more arrests than the previous period. While violent crime went up by 21 percent, arrests concurrently increased by 14 percent.
Three shooting incidents unfolded during that 28-day period, one of which was a homicide on the 2400 block of Sheridan St.
However, in the last month, police seized 12 firearms and made six arrests related to firearms. Compared to the prior cycle, eight more firearms were seized, with three more gun-related arrests. This increase in firearm enforcement is a significant improvement to last year’s trends. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 17 of 2018, only six guns were taken off the streets, while this year, that figure has climbed to 24 for that same time period.
“The officers are doing a really good job getting those guns,” Hartzell said.
Hartzell says the increase in overall arrests has been a positive trend for the district – not only in the past month but compared to last year’s data.
Combing both part one and part two offenses, officers in the 3rd Police District made 123 arrests in this period, which is 22 more than the prior cycle.
Hartzell says a number of the part two offenses were related to narcotic activity, which was an apprehension voiced by all residents at the meeting, specifically those living around 7th and Jackson streets.
Individuals say, just in the past few months, they’ve witnessed significant increases in the amounts of drug-dealing incidents unfolding in this pocket of the Whitman and Lower Moyamensing neighborhoods.
Hartzell says the police district is acutely aware of the ongoing drug activity in this area, continually seeking new methods of enforcement.
“We’re trying to stay on top of it the best that we can,” Hartzell said. “We know it’s a problem…I understand the frustration. It is difficult to make some of these narcotic arrests. We’re trying really hard.”
Among the witnessed behavior, residents say, on a daily basis, they see drug purchases in plain sight, including the same vehicles parking in vacant spots which neighbors suspect are a site for deals. Residents living near 9th and Ritner streets say they’ve witnessed similar activity occurring throughout the night.
Hartzell says the narcotic issue is exacerbated by the ongoing gang presence in the Lower Moyamensing and Whitman area.
Along with instilling a general fear of violence, the drug activity leads to syringes littering the streets and drug users panhandling neighbors, according to meeting attendees.
Attendees say they’re often skeptical to wait for the Route 47 bus, which runs northbound on 7th Street, or to even sit outside on their stoops, which unfortunately deters more eyes and ears witnessing these suspects.
Some residents suggested that the influx of immigrant populations to the area poses a challenge to this specific problem, as it could be difficult for these new neighbors to immerse and integrate in the communities.
“I think we kind of have to do something to the environment down there where it makes (dealers) not want to be in that area or at least push them out of there a little bit,” Hartzell said.
Hartzell recognizes, though, that by moving the activity off of certain intersections innately leads suspects to other locations, as the district continues to seek solutions to the ongoing cat-and-mouse game.
One possible answer is the Philadelphia Police Department’s new Operation Pinpoint, which was announced in January as part of a citywide action plan to reduce violence called “The Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities.”
The new policing program, which combines “intelligence-based and community-oriented policing,” will utilize 24/7 real time data to “pinpoint” paramount sources of illegal activity, including drug kingpins.
“It’s just a coordinated way to attack these areas with as many resources as we can…it’s a constant cycle of importing the right folks,” Hartzell said.
While a pilot program was recently launched in some districts, Hartzell says he’s unsure when the 3rd district will receive the new resources but his officers are gradually using some of the facets of Operation Pinpoint in the current enforcements.
Hartzell plans to increase police presence in that area on foot and bike beats upon residents’ request. Among other solutions brainstormed at the meeting are additional lighting on streets and alleyways and partnering with the Philadelphia Parking Authority to consider permits that could prevent suspected dealers from lingering in parked vehicles.
Echoing Fiedler’s initiative, Hartzell encourages establishing liaisons between constituents and law enforcement through networks such as block associations or additional block captains.
“I get it,” Hartzell said. “This is your reality every day…I’m aware of your problems, and we’re working really hard to do what we can with what we have.”