Policing in West Philadelphia is getting personal.
Last week, the Philadelphia Police Department began what it is calling a “quality-of-life blitz” — a modified form of community policing. Police officers and volunteer clergy members are going door-to-door discussing with residents ways to improve neighborhood security.
After finishing the 19th District last Thursday, police knocked on doors in the 18th District, which includes the Penn campus, last night. They will follow with the same procedure in the 12th district next Thursday. These three districts are identified as areas of high crime.
The 19th District, though it has not seen any recent increase in crime, does have more violent and property crime than surrounding areas, according to Philadelphia Police Inspector Dennis Wilson.
However, Wilson was surprised to find that over 20 vacant properties in the district that had previously been sealed by police had since been burglarized.
He expects to see similar vacant properties in the 18th and 12th districts. Police will return to the properties to seal them again, he added.
Though Penn’s campus is situated in the 18th District, students living off-campus did not have police officials knocking on their doors last night.
According to Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush, Penn is not one of the “hotspots.”
“That is the beauty of Penn Police,” she said. “We are like a boutique police department.”
DPS and the PPD both believe in the effectiveness of community policing.
Aside from handing out literature and educating citizens of new programs during the blitz, PPD is mainly trying to make the community feel more comfortable with its local police force.
Wilson said the volunteers and officers were very well received at residents’ homes. “Everyone was very happy to see us,” he said.
According to Rush, any form of community policing can help “break down the walls that get in the way of the community speaking with the police department.”
“Some people have problems and they are afraid to come forward,” Penn Police Captain Joseph Fischer said.
There are several ways in which DPS reaches out to the Penn community in the same way PPD is reaching out to West Philadelphia residents. For instance, DPS has liaison programs for college houses and fraternity and sorority houses so that each house has an assigned officer.
According to College sophomore Lina Bader, Penn Walk is also a resource that creates a relationship between students and police and, in turn, a more secure environment.
“[Penn Walk] gives me peace of mind when I have other things to worry about,” she said. “Similarly, I think the ‘quality-of-life blitz’ is a strong step forward to make Philly residents more at ease. Once I learned I could trust the Penn officials, I felt much safer.”