The The Philadelphia municipal budget for this fiscal year listed public safety as its top priority. In his budget address, Mayor Michael Nutter announced he does not plan to lay off a single police officer or firefighter.
“We will not turn away from the gains we’ve made in public safety,” he said in the address. That’s the good news.
However, Nutter proposed to leave 200 police vacancies unfilled and to cut overtime for officers and firefighters. This does not bode well for neighborhoods such as Hunting Park, where many residents think that more police presence is needed. Not only would it deter violence, but also discourage quality-of-life violations and nuisances that often escalate into showdowns between an aggravated neighbor and an inconsiderate resident.
“I’m from New York City, and I have never seen this in New York. You are driving, and people will stay in the middle of the street while you are taking your kids to school or going to work, and you can’t pass until they finish talking or unloading their groceries,” said Hunting Park resident Rosaora Rivera. “The mayor has to deal with this issue and ticket these people. The cops see you stuck there and just pass by. They don’t even beep their horns or sirens so people can move. It’s a joke.”
Retired missionary Jose Luis Perez is a staple at Centro Musical, the prominent Latin music store in Fairhill that doubles as a community headquarters. He recently experienced a situation eerily similar to what Rivera described. “I waited for this guy who was double parked for several minutes, then honked. The guy turned around and did this,” he lifted up his shirt, pretending to brandish a gun.
A police officer on a nearby corner could make someone think twice about parking illegally. This would both free up traffic and make it unnecessary for citizens to take matters into their own, emotionally wrought hands.
The government and the police force are easy targets when things go awry, but they cannot be everywhere, all of the time. Quetcy Lozada, the office director for 7th District Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, said: “We need to take responsibility [as community members]. We can’t blame the police for everything. You know you shouldn’t be parked in the middle of the street. What are you doing there?”
In these times of dwindling resources and economic hardship, a mutual respect must be forged between the public and the officers who swear to serve and protect them. “I grew up in Hunting Park, and I remember there was an ultimate type of respect for police officers. You saw them and you knew you needed to walk a straight line. Today, that doesn’t happen,” said Lozada.
Cuts in public safety places the burden on the community to ensure that its neighborhood is safe. This may not be such a bad idea.
“We can do a better job with our children coming out of school. They cross the street in areas where you are driving, and it is not safe for them to cross the streets in those areas. I think a little bit of more safety consciousness in the Philadelphia area would be appreciated for our children, as well as adults,” said resident Krystia Lee.
Both parents and community centers can help educate children to be self sufficient in that regard, without constant surveillance or a public safety official herding every fourth-grader from the playground to their porch.
Several residents we spoke to called for widespread social responsibility, to be “our brothers’ keeper.”
“We have to look out for each other,” said Perez of Centro Musical. “I’m not saying we have to take out the torches and hunt people down. But we must be alert.”
While neighbors can support their police force in many ways, there are some situations that officers are more
equipped to handle.
Rivera expressed concern that there is not enough police presence after school lets out in the afternoon. “Kids will get into fights, and I myself have had to break them up because by the time the police get here it is too late,” she said. “People from the street will also mug the kids coming out of school. Sometimes I have called the police and they take an hour just to get here.”
Councilwoman Maria Quinone-Sanchez stressed the temporary nature of the tax hikes and budget cuts. “These are short-term decisions in response to our national situation,” she said. In order to make police officers’ jobs easier, public safety officials and residents must be on the same team. she added.
“We urge residents to be informed about policies and procedures. Citizen intervention is also important, whether it be via information gathering, information sharing or collecting data,” said Quinones-Sanchez. “We can’t just arrest our way out of the problem. We need to partner up.”
Jose Luis Perez of Centro Musical sympathizes with Nutter. “Like Obama, he was given dirty dishes when he got into office, and it will take awhile for him to clean them.” In the meantime, everyone needs to stop pointing fingers, and instead join hands.