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At least 10 people have been shot at 10th and Brown streets in North Philadelphia over the last year, making the intersection in the middle of the Richard Allen Homes one of most violent hot spots in the Poplar neighborhood.
One of those victims was the adult nephew of Wysenia Williams, who fell bleeding through her front door minutes after he’d left to grab a soda from the corner store.
“I’m screaming,” Williams said, recalling the incident. “He literally just left my house. So I’m…I’m going crazy.” She and an officer rushed her nephew to the hospital and he survived the shooting, as did a woman acquaintance of his who was also shot.
“You put six bullets in him and six bullets in her,” Williams said. “What did she have to do with it?”
Williams, who is tenant council president at Richard Allen, is calling on the Philadelphia Police Department and PHA Police to provide 24-hour presence at the intersection. If done right, local research suggests the boost in boots on the ground could yield a big payoff by decreasing violence.
To make it happen, Williams staged an all-day protest one early morning in late July, blocking traffic for literally the entire day. The sign she held was a plea. It read: “Stop the Violence, Please Help Us.”
Joined initially by three people, more than a dozen neighbors had joined Williams by 5 p.m.. Most drivers inconvenienced by the demonstration didn’t seem frustrated by the temporary traffic slowdown, Williams said, recalling honks in support.
“The community wants to help but they’re scared,” Williams told Billy Penn. “It’s like damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
As was her hope, the demonstration brought a flood of 6th Police District officers to the block — creating a brief, 24-hour police presence at the high-violence intersection.
By mid-July, however, the 24-hour cops were gone. A few days later, a man was shot multiple times at the corner.
Police presence in the area is not nonexistent. There were enough officers standing around at an impromptu block party nearby in early August that Williams and neighbors felt safe sitting outside — until around 11:30 p.m.. That’s the time Williams said everyone knows to go indoors. Soon enough, the porchfront get-together was pierced by the sound of a semi-automatic weapon. By the sounds of people running. By screams echoing in the air.
“We call it the purge,” Williams said. “By 11 or 11:30, we all go in the house. By 11 or 11:30, we hear gunshots.”
As police reports later noted, five people had been shot at 10th and Brown that night, with the incident time recorded as 11:28 p.m.
Research: Done right, more police = less violent crime
Philadelphia police are aware that 10th and Brown sees a high number of gun violence incidents, spokesperson Ofc. Tanya Little said in an email.
Another spokesperson, Ofc. Eric McLaurin, said the PPD does employ 24-hour patrols at hot spots around the city to combat high crime areas. He couldn’t share where those areas are, or how many exist, “for tactical reasons,” he said.
PHA PD spokesperson Nichole Tillman said the housing authority uses a community policing model and that it’s force is designed only to supplement the PPD.
“It would not be appropriate to discuss specific strategies, except to say that our collaboration is ongoing, strong, and involves the sharing of both intelligence and resources,” Tillman said.
In her various meetings with the 6th Police District and PHA police, Williams said she was met with a similar message. The general theme: neither department has the resources.
Philly police are in the midst of a tumultuous time. The city this year has seen the highest number of homicides in more than a decade. PPD endured an abrupt leadership change, with current Commissioner Danielle Outlaw assuming the post in February, just about three months before Philly police’s aggressive response to Black Lives Matter protests garnered international attention.
Temple University criminal justice professor, researcher and former British police officer Jerry Ratcliffe said staffing any 24-hour static post is challenging. The practice would require the equivalent of about five full-time officers and means those officers can’t do other things like respond to radio calls.
Ratcliffe conducted the Philadelphia policing experiment in 2009. The study yielded tangible evidence that when officers spend more time on-the-ground in a violent crime hot spot, violent crimes are reduced.
The study monitored 120 high-crime “hot spots” in Philadelphia and provided half of them additional police foot patrol, a tactic that wasn’t super popular locally at the time. It called on police to transition from quicker drive-bys to slower walk alongs, and allowed officers to establish relationships with their constituents. Police maintained regular patrol at the other 60 locations.
Researchers honed in on micro city sections — street corner-sized areas like 10th and Brown.
“Crime in Philadelphia is highly concentrated,” Ratcliffe said. He said there’s no reason to assume trends in the city have changed from when the experiment was conducted. At that time, about 5% of city corners saw about 30% to 40% of the total violent crime, Ratcliffe said.
The result of the experiment? Violent crime was reduced by 23% in the foot patrolled areas. Philly has maintained the practice of foot patrols since, but Ratcliffe said the resource-depleting practice has to be done right.
“If [officers] sit in their car and read the newspaper, they’re probably not going to be effective,” Ratcliffe said. “They have to be out interacting with the community.”
He said he’s familiar with the 10th and Brown corner. He drives through there when traveling to Temple. “That’s a hot corner,” Ratcliffe remarked.
For resident Williams, who lives just down the block, increased police is just common sense.
“We need help down here,” Williams said. “Who’s going to help us?”