University City community members congregated at Calvary Community Center last Thursday evening to discuss neighborhood problems. With the assistance of two police officers, Brad Deeley and Pablo Seda, neighbors could voice their concerns as well as learn about solutions to prior incidents.
Despite the exceedingly hot weather, eight community members attended the monthly meeting to review recent and unfavorable events. Topics such as loud neighbors, chronic worries about the homeless and rowdy bar crowds were brought to the officers’ attention and recorded on a notepad.
In addition to noise violations and bad behavior, more severe issues were discussed. Such matters highlighted included neighbors displaying weapons in direct sight of children, drug usage and deals, and burglary. Incidents of car and property theft as well as occasional item snatching have been reported this past month in the neighborhood, causing neighbors to become more apprehensive.
The officers from the Police Service Area 3 of the 18th District assured the community they would examine each concern vigilantly, if they had not done so already. Additionally, the officers shared results of prior concerns which were discussed at previous meetings. Keeping the community informed and handling issues the attendees addressed strengthens the relationship between police and residents.
Lee Ward, a University City resident, attended June’s meeting for the first time to contribute and gain knowledge about the neighborhood.
“I thought it was a good opportunity to voice some concerns,” Ward said. “I enjoy this area of West Philadelphia. I have a general outlook of it being safe and I want to keep it that way. The fact is I have a new family and there are a lot of other families on the block and so I kind of see it as a way to speak for a lot of us. The general outlook of a neighborhood is the level of crime. And if there is a low level of crime, other areas can flourish. In that respect, I want to keep our entire neighborhoods and block safe.”
The community works with the police district to ensure the safety of the neighborhood and strive to alleviate crime. Collaboration is a way for neighbors to express their own concerns, which are not necessarily emergencies but are still crucial to the community.
“I would suggest [the officers and people who attend the meetings] to keep doing what they’re doing,” Ward added. “I think it’s a good policy, which is communication. See how Philadelphia has a reputation for not ratting, I don’t agree with that and I think communication is key between residents and law enforcement. Maintain constant communication so that everyone is working together.”
The officers also teach the community members various techniques to prevent certain crimes and provide safety tips at each meeting. This month, Officers Deeley and Officer introduced a new program to help avert property theft and a more efficient way to recover items if stolen.
The Property-Identification Program was originated by Philadelphia Police to prevent burglary and theft and to assist police in locating stolen property. Named the ‘Residential Operation ID,’ the burglary-deterrent is a simple system of labeling personal property with an identifying number in an attempt to discourage theft. Labeling valuable items will make it easier to trace and identify the person it belongs to. A window sticker is provided as a warning to potential burglars, indicating the individual is participating in the program.
Both the labels and the window decal are accessible on the Philadelphia Police Department’s website or by visiting the local police district. The silver labels display an individual’s license or identification card number already included. A label should then be placed onto the property near the item’s serial number. Keeping a list of the branded products and the serial numbers is an ideal way to provide a quick description of the stolen item in the event of a burglary.
The program is effective due to the labels which pose as a shield to deter a burglar as well as make the property difficult to dispose of or resell. It also allows the stolen items to be traced to the owner more easily. Furthermore, if the offender is caught with the property, it is solid evidence of possession of stolen goods.
Officer Deeley depicted a hypothetical scenario of an unlabeled item being stolen. The controversy transpires when burglars claim the property is theirs because an officer cannot prove it was stolen. Consequently, the chances of the possession being resold or never being recovered are greater.
“I would absolutely recommend getting involved,” Ward said. “The more you know, the more prepared you can be. My family will be a part of [the meetings] now that I know what goes on and how it can help and affect the neighborhood in a positive way, I will definitely recommend it to friends, too.”
Several “petty crimes,” such as theft, have been plaguing University City the past couple of months. In contrast, it has been noticed that fewer, more serious crimes like robbery, burglary and assault have decreased within the past decade.
Officer Deeley said he believes the number of robberies in the neighborhood has declined. He also said the police coordinating with the community is a factor as to why crime has reduced in the area. The police force of the 18th District and University of Pennsylvania’s police force are working together while educating each other about what is going on within the community.
“We saw our fair share of robberies but the property crime has gone down and just the whole area has kind of come up drastically as opposed to 10, 15 years ago,” Deeley said. “I’m sure our relationship working with the community has helped lower the crime rate along with the town watch.”
Where some residents find it very important to maintain a relationship with the police and attend the community meetings, others prefer taking matters into their own hands and dealing with concerns themselves.
Cedar Park resident Ernest Waugh has maintained a civic attitude over the years and was a Cedar Park Neighbors board member in years passed. After attending several similar community meetings while being on the board, Waugh said he does not plan on attending any community meetings anytime soon but finds alternative ways of deterring crime.
“I find these types of meetings to be marginally effective,” Waugh said. “I find that most neighborhood meetings, from my experience, I don’t want to sound cynical about it, just gives people a chance to bloviate. I find it more effective, especially in a neighborhood, to take matters into your own hands. If you see something that needs to be done, just go do it or find a few neighbors to do it.”
He and some neighbors on his block conduct block cleanups, which Waugh coordinates. Rather than forcing all of the residents on the block to participate in the cleanup, he said he believes a small group of people will suffice.
“All my neighbors say, ‘You should bang on the doors, everybody should come out.’ No, you don’t need everybody, you just need a core of people to do the right thing and then other people will follow,” Waugh said.
Nevertheless, it’s residents like Freda Mungo Moore who find the community meetings to be effective in alleviating crime in the neighborhood. Although she has only attended one meeting, she said she found them to be rather informative and reassuring.
“I thought [the meeting] was good. I was surprised there was a good attendance of people in my community and my block. I thought it was very informative. I was very pleased knowing that the police in this area are willing to meet with us, that they are patrolling very frequently and their response time is very good,” said Moore. “I liked it, I really liked it and I’m so glad to see there are so many neighbors who are also very interested and have the same issues or concerns and are willing to assist.”
Several residents said they did not think there was an increase in crime within the neighborhood. More so, they found that residents are just becoming more vigilant of their surroundings and have noticed an increase in police concern.
“The police welcome our concerns and it makes us feel very good. So it’s a good cohesive group and I think they are very genuinely sincere with our needs,” Moore said.
Like Moore, Ward found the meetings to be a good opportunity to voice some concerns. He has started a new family and wants to ensure their safety as well as the families on his block.
“The fact is I have a new family and there are a lot of other families on the block so I kind of see it as a way to speak for a lot of us,” said Ward.
Ward has been a victim of crime. Rather than living in fear and having a negative outlook on life, he said he uses his experience as a learning tool for others. He has suggested to his family and friends to always be aware of their surroundings and to understand that anyone can be a victim.
“The No. 1 fact is to not be naïve but not to expect it because that’s a negative outlook but to understand that anyone can be a victim and to be ready to respond—to always be aware of your surroundings,” said Ward. “Also, be able to react with a cool head. Never overreact and understand that you can’t prevent [crime], you can’t always prevent [crime] but you can deal with it.”
Many local residents are aware of the community meetings and although not every meeting is guaranteed to have promising attendance, the information discussed at each meeting is relayed to neighbors who do not attend by those who do. Whether people have prior engagements or do not feel the need to attend, there is a general consensus that such meetings are effective and help alleviate safety within the community.