West Oak Lane: Police District Defies City Murder Trend
While homicides across the city have increased this year, Philadelphia’s 14th Police District, which serves North Germantown and West Oak Lane, has seen half as many homicides compared to this time last year.
Capt. Joel Dales revealed the news to residents at a Town Hall meeting last week. Joining Lt. Anthony Buchanico’s regular police service area meeting, Dales said the district has seen three homicides this year compared to the six his district had seen by this time last year.
As of April 1, citywide homicide data indicates 87 homicides this year compared with 83 homicides at this date in 2011. Murders have decreased by almost 21.9 percent since 2007.
Philadelphia Police’s most recent homicide analysis was published for 2011.
The 14th District had 28 murders total last year, closely followed by nearby Germantown’s 39th District, which had 27 murders, and the 35th District, which had 22 murders.
Dales said that what makes town hall meetings important to his job is cooperation between neighbors and police for information.
Dales explained the best way the community helps is by paying attention to their neighbors and children. He said two weeks ago at the intersection of Germantown Avenue and Chelten Avenue, a fight was prevented thanks to a tip. Nearly a hundred kids were waiting for a fight after school between gangs called the Cool Kids and Brickyard Mafia. Police were ready to break up the scene because parents had contacted them.
A woman who brought her two sons to the town hall asked for help with crime associated with drug dealing she had witnessed outside her home. Dales assured her that he already knew of issues at the intersection she mentioned and had plans to increase police presence there. Upon Dales’ mention of a homicide this year at a bar, other residents brought up the issue of nuisance bars contributing to the problem. The woman, who requested to remain anonymous because she is a witness in an ongoing case, responded that shutting down a bar is harder than they would think.
“You need to find weapons, drugs or have an aggravated assault or homicide,” she said.
“I need to have you on my team,” Dales replied. “What’s amazing is even with shootings, it is difficult to get a bar shut down. We work with the DA’s office on these problem bars a lot, but they can challenge in court.”
Dales explained meeting with a bar owner who was attracting the “wrong crowd.” He worked with the bar owner to implement security measures and changes.
“I understand these bars want to make money,” he said. “But they can do it the right way.”
Dales mentioned that other preventative measures include community efforts to prevent criminality. In an arrest related to a local bar shooting, Dales said he caught a suspect whom he had arrested personally for narcotics in 1999.
Officer Calvin Johns said that a Nuisance Task Force, previously shut down by the city due to budget cuts, may be formed again to address bar problems faster. Dales added that community efforts are just as important as police presence in preventing violent crime.
“‘Lock them up’ is not always the answer,” Dales said. “Prison can be like college for crime.”
Dales said communities need to invest in their neighbors before they become criminals. He recalled a 28-year-old man he met with no job possibilities after being released from prison. The young man was rejected for training by the Because We Care job training program because he was not an ex-felon, but had a misdemeanor. Dales said the young man had no chance of getting hired and would have to train to be a business owner, which might frustrate him back into a life of crime.
Dales said cooperation is especially difficult in relation to homicide. “It’s a culture where some people won’t tell even if they’re the victim,” he said. “Someone will be a victim of a shooting, refuse to break the code of the streets, and I’ll think, ‘Are you crazy? This guy tried to kill you.'”
While he said he understands people are still afraid for their families, Dales said to solve homicide cases “somebody’s got to step forward.”
Dales added that the district provides witness protection. Victim assistance police officer Sabra Johnson finished the meeting by outlining some of the other services provided by the Crime Victims Compensation Program.
Victoria Greene, the founder of Every Murder Is Real, helps community members with the victim’s compensation form and other services. She said she is frustrated by the way media handles reporting homicide.
“We don’t hear the stories behind it,” Greene said. “We see the faces, if we see that. We get the numbers, the statistics but we don’t know the story of that person. We don’t hear what that person was like or about. We don’t hear about their family. It’s treated like a object. You know okay, this is murder 204 this year. That type of tone, ‘Oh, we’ve had another homicide.’ It’s like the humanity is lost.”
Peter Miller, who owns RIP T-Shirt Gallery & Varieties at 12 W. Chelten Ave., said he sees lost humanity every day at his business. His business designs memorabilia including T-shirts, lockets and mugs. His store relocated to the commercial corridor six months ago after having been at the Chelten Avenue strip mall for 14 years.
Miller said his store is based on the idea that “when someone is deceased, all their loved ones have left is a picture. They have that memory and we make these products so that they can carry and wear that memory.”
As Miller told the stories behind his display items, he realized every person on a T-shirt or locket had been a victim of a homicide in the city. The 46-year-old immigrant from West Africa said he plans to graduate this semester from Lincoln University with an undergraduate degree in systems management. He said he wants to move on from his business to help address social problems.
“If a community works with a shared vision, they can succeed,” Miller said. “But we have to be going in the same direction.”