Community Policing: An Innovative Strategy in South Philadelphia

Police officer patrols near Sixth and South Streets.
Sergeant Paul Spriggs pauses a moment while suiting up for duty.
Sgt. Paul Spriggs pauses a moment while suiting up for duty.


The officers of the South Street police detail, located at Ninth and South streets, attended a Friday evening roll call in preparation to head out to serve and protect the area. With their helmets on and their bikes ready, the police officers are prepared for another night of interaction with the South Street area on what is one of only three Friday nights in the past several weeks without rain.

In addition to all of the standard police duties, the South Street detail also practices what might well be the one of the city’s most progressive community-policing strategies. The main goal is to prevent any crime from happening at all and to effectively communicate with and involve community leaders, business owners and residents while doing so. Sgt. Paul Spriggs has been at the South Street mini-station for the past four years and a police officer for 14. He says they have seen the numbers of arrests rise and recently begin to fall. “The people around here started getting the idea you have to behave,” Spriggs explained. “You can’t come outside with an open beer. It’s illegal everywhere, but we enforce it. If you don’t enforce the small rules, that’s when you invite the bigger problems. We have very few robberies and vandalism because we enforce the small ones. It’s been proven in all the books you read. If you prevent the small crimes, like we do, the big ones don’t come in. We don’t tolerate any [illegal] behavior.”

The South Street mini-station focuses on staying in touch with the neighborhood.

“Community policing means working with the community. Whatever it encompasses, not just answering 911 and doing what the police think needs to be done. It’s listening to the community and incorporating their plans. A lot of the police mentality is to make the arrest, make the arrest, make the arrest,” Spriggs said. “That means a crime happened. How about we try to stop the crime from happening first? The basic police function is crime prevention. A lot of young kids get on the job and want to catch the bad guy. If you can stop them from doing something first, that’s the key.”

The police also agree that working with the community includes working well with the surrounding businesses. There are currently 419 retail stores and 78 liquor license establishments within the South of South Corridor. Spriggs said that the businesses are very cooperative. “If we tell them to round it up or take it all inside, they do. If they need us, we tell them to call us.”

Lt. Gerry McShea feels that the detail does a great job staying connected to the neighborhood and listening to them. They do a bike registration on certain Saturdays right out front of the station. He also was proud of how well the meeting was arranged and went following the teen riots on South Street a few weeks ago. “After that night, we arranged the meeting. [It was] thrown together in four days. It was a great meeting. We answered questions until they got tired.”

Because of recent teen riots, the South Street detail has 30 police officers working its weekend beat, up from their normal 14. The extra cops are brought in from other neighborhoods where there are enough officers to loan.

The South Street mini-station is a subdivision of the 3rd District Main Office on 11th and Wharton streets. The South Street corridor has a varied demographic. Of a population of slightly more than 22,000 people, 71.8 percent are white, 22.2 percent are black, 4.5 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1.6 percent are other races.

The South Street detail used to patrol only from Lombard Street to Bainbridge Street, and from Front Street to Broad. However, as Spriggs explains, “Since Lt. McShea came here, we’ve expanded our territory. During the week, we focus on spreading our bicycles into the neighborhoods, but on the weekends we stay near South Street because we have a lot more crowds and a lot more people.”

Police tatoos adorn Sgt. Spriggs' body.
Police tatoos adorn Sgt. Spriggs' body.

In order to maintain peace, the police have varied patrols—on foot, on bike and, as of two weeks ago, on Segways, a two-wheeled, electric-powered scooter on which an individual stands. Although the station has some patrol cars, they really are not the quickest modes of transportation due to heavy traffic. Many officers are found on bikes, which Spriggs finds to be most effective. “They’re quiet, they get around real fast, and you can’t out run us.”

With the addition of two Segways to the station, two officers are specifically trained in riding them. Rafael Reyes, 34, is one of the officers trained in riding the Segways throughout the neighborhood. An officer for a little over five years, Reyes sees the pros of the Segways. “With the Segway you stand up a little higher over the crowd, which is good for South Street because of the traffic, especially on weekends. Cars get backed up and you can get to a job quicker.”

The South Street mini-station has made many advances in the past five years,and continues to take progressive steps in policing. With low rates of violent crimes in the corridor, perhaps others should be paying attention to the community-policing strategy.

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South Street is always busy.
South Street is always busy.


South Street is rarely an empty street. Each day and night, tourists and residents visit the area to shop, to eat and to interact with one another. South Street is usually so busy it can be difficult to walk and almost impossible to drive. With that magnitude of people, order needs to be maintained.

Liz del Cano, a manager at The Mood on South Street, believes in the process of community policing. “We have a positive relationship with the cops on the street,” del Cano says. “The increased police presence has affected [life on South Street]. There are fewer teens down here but that can also be from the weather.”

Police officer patrols near Sixth and South Streets.
Police officer patrols near Sixth and South streets.

In addition to working on South Street, del Cano also lives there. The police presence gives her a feeling of safety where she lives. “With the riots, they responded and used force. It was handled well,” del Cano continues. “Even when a gun was being fired just for whatever reasons by an idiot during those riots, I still felt pretty safe. I really don’t have any complaints.”

For a business that is open late into the night and is dealing with swarms of intoxicated people, many bars have had to work with the police at some point. Allison Eskridge, an employee of Bridget Foy’s, a bar and restaurant on Second and South streets, believes the police are doing a good job. “The cops are always here on the corner because the intersection is so busy,” Eskridge explains. “The weekends down here with those kids, [the police] set up tons of officers on bikes just to be safe.” Like many others who now think of the riots when they think of safety on South Street, Eskridge tries to remember that this is the officers’ daily job, every day: “They’re here to protect. They are always outside, protecting people and the streets.”

Colorful and franetic, South Street is frequently abuzz with activity.
Colorful and franetic, South Street is frequently abuzz with activity.

Many people feel protected and secure with the South Street police. Even those who did not want to be quoted still said they think that the police are efficient. Yet not everyone is fully satisfied. Moshe Hananel of The Vision–Denim Division on South Street, thinks the police could be a bit more involved. “It’s like retail; it’s customer service. There should be more communication.” However, Hananel explains he has not contacted the police without a response. He just thinks there should be more conversation between the police and the people. Yet, he makes a point to say: “I know the police are doing their best work everyday they go to work. They risk their lives for us.”

In addition to business owners’ support of the South Street mini-station’s community policing, the Queen Village Town Watch is supportive as well. The town watch monitors for quality-of-life issues and reports them to the police.

In South of South, it is important for the community to work together, and through the cooperation from business owners and the South Street mini-station, they are able to maintain a good quality of life for the average Philadelphia neighborhood.


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