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There’s a lot of confusion around policing on South Street. Following the June shooting that killed three people and wounded 11 more, there were calls for police to do all sorts of more. Deploy more officers. Hand out more citations and arrests. Do more community work.
But not all stakeholders on the commercial corridor surrounded by a residential area want the same thing, interviews with 10 neighborhood business owners and residents show.
In both camps, many are unclear about what the Philadelphia Police Department can or should be doing to promote safety — or what official policies and procedures actually are.
“The truth is, I don’t know who the officers are,” said Kyle Harris, who has lived on South Street since 2020 and took over the quirky neighborhood boutique Paper Moon the following year. “You can’t necessarily tell the difference between an officer and a PPA person half the time.”
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The area is primarily under the purview of Philly’s 3rd Police District, which also operates the satellite South Street Police Mini Station. None of the officers working in the district live there, according to the department. And when it gets busy on the weekend, police are dispatched from other districts across the city, according to 3rd District Captain Joseph McBride.
Some officers who work the corridor appear unfamiliar with it, several local business owners said, and regularly ask for directions. Others said police often seem to congregate in large groups in front of store entrances, instead of being on patrol.
“By the time they arrive, whatever the incident is, it’s done and over with,” said Robert Perry, who runs longtime South Street bar Tattooed Mom. “It’s the luck of the draw about who you get showing up, whether they care, [and] whether they can or want to do anything about it.”
Some community members say they now feel uncomfortable filing a police report, calling 911, or asking an officer to check on their store. Proprietors say previously successful programs, like a log book for business check-ins, now lack coordination.
Nearly everyone who lives and works in the area agrees policing can improve. But their desired directions for change sometimes contradict one another, and often cleave along racial lines.
Queen Village, which unofficially comprises a 30-square-block area from South Street to Washington Avenue and Front to Fifth streets, was about 70% white as of 2019. The commercial corridor, meanwhile, has long been a hub for Black entrepreneurship and organizing. Currently, a directory run by the South Street Headhouse District (SSHD) lists 37 Black-owned businesses along the strip.
Jenea Robinson, owner of natural hair care store Marsh + Mane, felt South Street was one of the only neighborhoods that would welcome her business when it opened in 2018. She has noticed a gulf between how some longtime white residents and visiting Black patrons interact with police.
“There is a cultural disconnect,” Robinson said. “It’s easy for a white person to tell police to be more aggressive and do their job without thinking, ‘What could it mean if they are more aggressive? What could that turn into?’”
Asking police to be more aggressive is exactly what some Queen Village residents are advocating for. “I’m more worried about these low-level crimes creating a wellspring where ‘everything goes,’” Eleanor Ingersoll, Queen Village Neighbors Association president, told Billy Penn in July.
A recent Billy Penn analysis of police incident reports found crime levels on South Street — both violent and nonviolent — are on par with Philly’s other business districts. Yet the disproven notion that misdemeanor offenses there lead to more frequent violent crime dominated a June SSHD meeting. “ATVs, old cars, all of these things are associated with June’s shooting,” District 1 Councilmember Mark Squilla told the crowd. One local business owner agreed: “Nowadays everyone’s walking around the streets smoking blunts, vaping and getting stoned … This behavior is only going to fester conflict.”
Other South Street business owners — some of whom are also Queen Village residents — believe militant or cold demeanor from police is a factor.
“When you import people, police have no stakes in the community,” said Nicole Wiegand, a co-owner of the South Street Art Mart and neighborhood resident who for 15 years was manager of South Street sex shop Condom Kingdom. “They don’t live here. They don’t know the people that live here. They don’t shop here … There is no incentive for them to do anything positive.”
A log book program that may or may not exist
The 3rd PPD District is headquartered at 11th and Wharton streets in Passyunk Square, about three-quarters of a mile southwest of South Street’s commercial nexus.
The South Street Mini Station, located on the street’s 900th block, is supposed to provide an immediate touchstone, with three officers permanently stationed there. Officers at the mini station cannot immediately respond to incident reports, however — these must be rerouted to a 911 operator at PPD central dispatch.
“The original purpose for any mini station was to make police services available in local neighborhoods, to make it more inviting to people that might not normally make a report or go to the police station,” Capt. McBride told Billy Penn. Its duties include “everything the bigger stations offer,” like patrols and permitting assistance.
Several business owners on the strip say they remember a time when officers made an active effort to connect with them individually, and feel it doesn’t happen anymore.
“I feel like now your only interaction with them is when something goes down, and you need to deal with them or they need to deal with you,” said Perry, of Tattooed Mom, which just celebrated its 25th year. “Before, there was a prior relationship where they would just be walking around, like ‘Hey, what’s up? How’s it going?’”
Other proprietors on the block recall a formalized check-in process for police assigned to South Street, wherein officers would sign a “log book” at various locations along the corridor. The goal was to improve their knowledge of the local businesses, and be able to respond more quickly to emergencies.
Wiegand remembers the log book as a key part of Condom Kingdom’s relationship with the local police for the 15 years she managed the store, but added that since becoming co-owner of the Art Mart, she and Krecicki have never been visited by any officers. Over at Paper Moon, Harris said she’s never had a log book, but recalls former owner Joe Cocucolo mentioning one at his other business, the former tiki bar Copabanana.
Whether or not the log books and check-in policy remain in place is an open question.
At the June 8 SSHD meeting, Repo Records co-owner Dan Matherson asked about re-establishing the program. The police representative at the meeting responded positively. At the following meeting, on July 13, PPD cited staffing shortages as a major obstacle to enacting the change.
A bit later in July, however, McBride told Billy Penn via email that the log book program is still active. All businesses have to do is request one, he said.
In general, McBride added, there are several engagement opportunities for residents and businesspeople to stay updated on the work officers do in their community. He pointed to monthly public meetings held each Wednesday for the 3rd District’s Police Service Area 1, which covers Center City from Broad Street to the Delaware. He also said a 3rd Police District representative is present at the monthly meetings for SSHD.
The Friends of the South Street Mini Station, a booster group that fundraises to cover operational costs for the mini station, like air-conditioning and furniture, also holds monthly meetings. According to president John Smyth, these gatherings are closed, but bring together officers from the mini station and reps from four associations: the Queen Village Neighbors Association, the Bella Vista Neighbors Association, the Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition, and SSHD. It’s up to those groups to relay information to their constituents, Smyth said.
He’s uninterested in having the friends group focus on business owner concerns.
“This group is about the neighbors. It’s not about South Street’s businesses,” Smyth said. “If it weren’t for South Street’s businesses, we wouldn’t even have this organization.”
South Street’s police don’t live there. Does that matter?
Many South Street business owners and residents connect what they see as a lackluster police response with a lack of community engagement. In interview after interview for this story, people brought up a similar question: Where do the police officers who work on the corridor live?
The short answer: Not on South Street. Not even in the 3rd Police District.
The Philadelphia Police Department for decades had a residency requirement. In 2008, a bill introduced by then-Councilmember Jim Kenney eliminated it. During 2020’s racial justice and police reform movements, City Council reinstated the residency requirement in an effort to diversify the city’s police force. In April 2022, the requirement was waived to combat understaffing, a persistent problem in the PPD.
Residency requirements can help ensure police have some understanding of communities they interact with, studies have found, but they’re not foolproof. The idea is that neighbors might see an off-duty cop at a block party, corner store, or soccer game, which offers a chance for everyday interactions. These relationships could impact how officers handle incidents on the job.
But just because someone lives on a certain block doesn’t mean they understand the community or know how to serve it, said Ajima Olaghere, a former Temple University assistant professor of criminal justice who studies community-police relations.
She called it a proxy for assessing “To what extent do you know the community and how well do you know us?” Residency is only part of the issue, Olgahere said. “That takes a directive, that takes proactive policing, and that takes a spirit of ‘I want to get to know these people.’”
Community members feel that sentiment is missing from South Street’s police force — especially among its nighttime officers.
“A lot of the day shift officers are a bit friendlier … they’re more willing to talk to the residents,” said Harris, the Paper Moon owner. “And people know them by name, because a lot of them have been on the beat for a long time.”
Harris believes the nature of policing on South Street is a reflection of the surrounding area. When she took over Paper Moon in 2021, she noticed customers from the neighborhood bristle when they heard the business was under new ownership.
“I’ve had people come into the store and notice that it’s no longer owned by this older, white man. And when I introduce myself as the new owner, they walk out,” she said.
Perry at Tattooed Mom, which is open until 2 a.m. on weekends, said he feels like the loudest of the resident voices “blame a lot of quality of life issues on bars for absolutely no reason.”
That can lead neighborhood newcomers or potential tourists to hold misconceptions about crime along the corridor, said Wiegand and Krecicki of Art Mart. As more and more police are stationed there, the South Street entrepreneurs said, businesses are seeing fewer and fewer patrons. They noted Black patrons have historically faced police discrimination, and as a result may not feel safer with the increased presence.
“It kind of feels like a trap, right?” Krecicki said. “The neighborhood, which is predominantly white and wealthy, wants more police, and the people who come down to South Street for fun don’t want to be here.”