For nearly 30 years, Mayfair residents have been urging the Philadelphia Police Department and the City of Philadelphia to split the 15th Police District.
Largely owing to a collaboration between Donny Smith (above), president of the Mayfair Civic Association, Councilman Bobby Henon, who represents Philadelphia’s 6th Council District in Northeast Philadelphia and Joe DeFelice, chairman of the Mayfair Community Development Corporation, the proposal to split the 15th Police District gathered momentum in 2014, culminating in a petition sponsored by Councilman Henon’s office.
Philadelphia Neighborhoods reported in July of 2014 that the Philadelphia Police Department had no plans to split the district, and talks of dividing the 15th have since gone quiet.
The proposal, drafted in the hopes of reducing long emergency response times and diminishing crime rates, would bisect the district serving the Northeast neighborhoods of Frankford, Holmesburg, Bridesburg, Tacony and Wissinoming as well as Mayfair. According to Smith, the 15th Police District has been plagued by its responsibility to manage the largest service area of any police district in Philadelphia.
“How it all started was with [former 15th District] Captain John McCloskey — great guy, very nice guy — who would repeat the same mantra every time the neighbors would call him with a concern regarding what’s going on in the neighborhood,” Smith said. “His same answer, all the time, was that ‘the 15th District is the biggest and busiest district in the city.’ Having heard that same battle cry over and over again, the solution seemed extremely simple: split the district in half.”
For those who supported the split, the issue seemed to be resolved on an optimistic note after a budget proposal from Henon was approved as an alternative – one requesting that 30 new police officers be assigned to the district.
“Remember when civic associations joined under the common goal of splitting the 15th Police District, to provide for better response times?” reads a page on Henon’s official website, highlighting the achievement. “In the end, an unprecedented 30 new police officers were assigned to the District.”
However, according to Jolene Nieves Byzon, director of communications for Henon’s office, the positive effects of 30 new police officers meant to sate the concerns of Mayfair residents may have all but disappeared in the two years since Henon’s request was approved.
“You have to consider that some officers are going to leave, or they’re going to retire,” Byzon said. “Some, I’m sure, will be transferring to another district. I don’t know if those 30 police officers are really going to fill the gap.”
The Philadelphia Police Department could not be reached for comment.
After a meeting of the Mayfair Civic Association on March 21, 2016, Smith voiced similar concerns while discussing the need to revitalize the fight for a split district.
“It was a PR story under the guise of ‘here’s your 30 new cops,’” Smith said. “It’s the impression that you’re getting 30 more, when in reality you might get 10 new cops, but the other 20 are replacing officers who have been transferred, or have resigned or retired. We were given more officers in ’89 too, but they’ve obviously been dispersed since then. […] Ultimately, issues that the neighborhoods are facing weren’t necessarily addressed.”
The Philadelphia Police Department has established three Police Service Areas in the 15th District, appointed as a means of addressing the concerns of Northeast residents without officially splitting the district. According to Smith, this has created hot spots within the district to which patrol units are often relocated, leaving other areas within the district vulnerable.
“If persistent problems are found down in PSA1, for instance, all of our cars would wind up down there,” Smith said.
As more Mayfair residents believe their concerns regarding crime and safety are not being addressed, neighboring town watch groups have started to incorporate patrols through Mayfair to lend a helping hand. Tara Gontek, co-president of the Tacony-Holmesburg Town Watch, said the organization now makes an effort to look after “problem areas” in Mayfair.
“It’s such an interconnected community,” Gontek said. “If they have concerns, we’ll always reach out if we can.”
– Text, video and photography by Aaron Windhorst.