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Philly police plan to fan out to pools, recreation centers in high-violence areas this summer

 Deputy Commissioner James Kelly, Mayor Jim Kenney, Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and Sgt Eric Gripp give an update on Philadelphia Police Department strategy ahead of summer.
Sammy Caiola
Deputy Commissioner James Kelly, Mayor Jim Kenney, Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and Sgt Eric Gripp give an update on Philadelphia Police Department strategy ahead of summer.

Philadelphia Police Department officials are hopeful that a combination of deploying more officers to high-violence areas and offering young people activities and places to gather will stave off the expected spike in summer shootings.

At a press conference Monday, department leaders explained that officers who are stationed at schools during some of the year will be transferred to pools and recreation centers. Higher priority centers, including those that have been the sites of shootings in recent years, may have police officers stationed there, while other sites could have roving officers who stop in.

“We don’t have enough resources to cover every pool, so we prioritize them,” said Deputy Commissioner James Kelly. “But every pool will get a lot of visible, rotating coverage if they don’t have a steady unit.”

Kelly said all recreation centers will have a log book that officers are required to stop in and sign at different times of day, and that calls from recreation centers to PPD will be considered high priority.

A 15-year-old was shot and injured outside a North Philly rec center last month. Five people were injured last August after shooters fired nearly 100 bullets near a West Philadelphia recreation center. A recreation center employee in Mill Creek died after she was caught in the crossfire that September.

PPD leaders are hopeful that increased officer presence will prevent more of those tragedies. They plan to continue with increased patrols in four core areas: the 22nd, 24th, 25th, and 39th police districts.

They shared the following changes in those four districts between 2022 and 2023.

  • In the 22nd district, homicides were up 4% and shootings were down 14%.
  • In the 24th district, homicides were down 38% and shootings were down 46%.
  • In the 25th district, homicides were down 29% and shootings were down 14%.
  • In the 39th district, homicides were up 9% and shootings were down 33%.

Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said she wants these trends to give Philadelphians hope.

“If we don’t focus or recondition or teach ourselves how to be optimistic or resilient … we’ll continue to stay in that sunken place, where we’ve been quite frankly in the last three years,” she said.

But she understands that the stats might not change how someone feels day to day.

“I can spout out numbers all day long, but if someone — a child, whomever, a mother, a parent — still doesn’t feel safe in allowing their young person to walk to the corner store or go to school or go to play in a place that’s supposed to be designed to be safe for them, it really means nothing,” she said.

Temple University criminal justice professor Caterina Roman said there hasn’t been enough evaluation to really know whether PPD’s current hotspots policing strategy is working, or if it’s making a substantial enough dent in violence for how much the department is spending.

“Their research analysis shop could be tripled in size, and it would be a good investment in resources,” she said. “Crime mapping techniques and how to integrate intelligence data with other data, I think you would have more reporting and accountability simply because the capacity is there.”

A new report from Pew Research, the Neubauer Family Foundation, the Barra Foundation and several other groups states that cities that have reduced violence are those that have sufficiently employed police work and non-police interventions such as supported employment programs, “with the two elements linked tightly together and working in a common strategy.”

This summer, district police captains have been asked to plan activities for neighborhood kids and teens. These will include athletic events, ice cream socials, career mentorship, and field trips to local attractions such as the Philadelphia Zoo and Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom. The Police Athletic League, which has been working with children since 1947, is extending hours at some of its locations and running an 8-week golf camp.

“We can’t do any of this without the community,” said First Deputy Commissioner John Stanford on combating gun violence. “As a part of that, Commissioner Outlaw has directed us to have the community relations bureau be more involved.”

Police leaders also said this summer’s strategy includes more enforcement when large groups of people are breaking laws on motorized bikes and ATV’s, and includes posting additional officers on South Street and in the Fashion District.