Police assigned to patrol South Street are getting an award for their response to June’s tragic shooting, which saw 14 people injured and three killed on a busy Saturday night.
The honor is being bestowed by the Friends of the South Street Police Mini Station, a nonprofit coalition formed to support members of the police detail assigned to the Philadelphia commercial and cultural corridor. It’s set to be awarded Thursday as part of the group’s celebration for National Night Out, a long-running annual event that furthers community-police relations.
“We feel very clearly that the police were great. They ran to the scene, not away from it,” John Smyth, president of the friends group, said about the chaotic early summer evening.
“They took out one of the people that were involved initially,” Smyth told Billy Penn, referring to the breakup of a fight thought to have instigated the shooting. “And they had to bring all that rescue equipment, and then take care of wounded people — we don’t hear about that.” Several shooting victims that evening were taken to the emergency department at Jefferson University Hospital via police cruiser, according to The Inquirer.
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Hearing the police would be getting an award for their actions that night, local business owners and workers were divided. Several said they wished there was more policing, while others were skeptical of the award-worthiness. Most didn’t want to give their full names, worried about potential blowback from police or the friends group for their comments.
Rocco, who works at SJ Cigars on Third Street, said he sees many officers as customers of the store, where he said he’s often heard them talk about feeling underappreciated.
“Award-worthy? Possibly, I just haven’t personally seen it,” Rocco said when told about the plan. He used to see police patrols throughout the evening, he said, but now “I’ve only seen gathering on corners … maybe it’s like a deterrent.” He added, “I know that they want to go home at the end of the night, too.”
At a store further up the strip, between Eighth and Ninth, the news was met with a different stance. “It’s a slap in the face to the actual service workers in Philly,” one employee said of the award.
A man working in a pawn shop nearby, who said he’d worked on South Street for three decades, recalled a larger police presence on the street in the past. “There aren’t enough officers there. There used to be 8 to 10,” officers on patrol, he asserted, and these days there’s “only one or two.”
The South Street Police Detail was established in 1985 for weekend coverage, according to the friends group’s website, but has become an around-the-clock part of PPD operations. The mini station, a small storefront next to Whole Foods at 905 South St., was established in 1992.
The friends group is made up of representatives from local civic associations — the Bella Vista Neighbors Association, Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition, Queen Village Neighbors Association, and the South Street Headhouse District. It raises money to pay for the computers, HVAC system, and internet connection at the substation, where officers field community concerns and sometimes gather before deployment, according to Smyth, the organization president.
Its yearly award is usually given to a member of the community, Smyth said. But the group believes the police’s work that night — and in general — has gone underappreciated, they told Billy Penn.
Blake, a worker at self-proclaimed anarchist bookstore The Wooden Shoe at 704 South St., had a different sentiment. “In my opinion,” Blake said, “the police are never under-appreciated … they have free rein to do whatever they want.”
Anthony Johnson, proprietor of clothing store Gate 2-15, said he doesn’t have a problem with the police getting this award.
He did say he’s been disappointed by the police response at times, when street closures blocked traffic to his store. Gate 2-15 is between Ninth and Eighth, a few blocks up from where the largest crowds often gather, usually around Fourth Street. Johnson was told the sporadic closings take place as the police deem necessary. He said it has affected traffic at the new business, which is in its second year.
“I talked to the lieutenant [at the mini station] and they promised not to do it at a certain time. But they did it anyway,” Johnson said. “It’s random, never a specific hour. But as soon as South Street begins to get crowded, that’s when they block the street.”
The most frequent crime along the business and cultural corridor in recent years has been theft without the use of a weapon, per a recent Billy Penn analysis. Quality-of-life crimes make up the bulk of infractions overall, and violent crime is generally low.
One worker at South Street Business Center at the corner of Eighth and South said she had no bad feelings about how officers operate on the street. But she questioned the utility of the mini station. She recalled going there to have a police report filed for an incident in the store, but having the officer tell her to bring the issue to the area’s PPD district headquarters instead.
A typical National Night Out event on South Street celebrates police relations with their supporters more than those who make their living in the area. In years past, turnout has included nearby residents and advocates from outside the neighborhood, but few business owners or workers on South Street.
Officers will be given a plaque next Thursday, commemorating their handling of the busy blocks of South Street. The Friends also said they plan to educate attendees on city laws related to public safety.
Billy Penn’s Beatrice Forman contributed reporting.