Philly bike cops winding down Center City presence

As many as 500 high school kids have jammed near Dilworth Park after school the last few months, putting officers on high alert.

Philadelphia bicycle police at the corner of 15th and Ranstead streets, one block from Chestnut.

Philadelphia bicycle police at the corner of 15th and Ranstead streets, one block from Chestnut.

Chris Montgomery / Billy Penn

Since December, two groups have crowded into Dilworth Park around 15th and Chestnut streets on weekday afternoons: Teenagers and the police on bicycles who watch them.

At times, the teens have numbered close to 500. Bike cops have come not only from Center City’s Ninth and 16th districts but throughout the city. At one point, nearly every bike officer in Philadelphia was in this area of Center City

But now that summer is starting, the bike cops are dissipating. Why? Police are expecting far fewer teens.

“The kids who go to school down here,” said Ninth District police captain Ray Convery, “don’t come here.”  

Convery said they generally stay in their home neighborhoods, and it’s been that way for years.

One of the main reasons teenagers began flooding Center City around Dilworth Park the last few months was the closing of the Gallery. High schoolers used to hang out there after school. In the summer, they rarely showed up in significant numbers, Convery said.

“I’ve been down here for two and a half years now,” he said, “and we haven’t had any issues. Same with the captain before me. (So), the last three and a half years during the summer. I’m probably jinxing myself now.”

Police began noticing problems with teenagers coming to Center City in the fall. Then one day in mid-December hundreds descended upon the area. The police responded by stepping up their presence even more, though it wasn’t enough to deal with an unruly crowd on March 9. There were seven arrests that day and the assault of an off-duty police officer.

“I had one bad day in March,” Convery said, “and a very bad day in December.”

Between the ninth and 16th districts, Convery said he can have around 20 officers on bikes. He believes that number will be sufficient, particularly because Wawa Welcome America and later the Democratic National Convention will bring heightened security to Center City anyway.

“I don’t think they will really get a chance to find out downtown is not as heavily patrolled as during the winter,” Convery said. “It’s going to look about the same with all the other events going on.”

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