There are likely as many unreported efforts to prevent gun violence in our city as there are reported incidents of gun-related crimes.
There are likely as many unreported efforts to prevent gun violence in our city as there are reported incidents of gun-related crimes. Clearly, the number of injuries and deaths resulting from shootings has set off an alarm in our communities, prompting responses from nonprofit groups, small businesses, religious organizations, political officials, and individual citizens. Here, we draw attention to some of the work of the Philadelphia 14th District police, and community residents who collaborate with them, to stem the wave of violence in our city.
At an April 15 virtual public meeting with Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and officers from the 14th District, community member Joseph Budd, Jr. offered a suggestion for District Police. Budd is a member of Men Who Care of Germantown, a local group that distributes groceries to the community every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Morton and Tulpehocken Streets. Budd invited police to join with them the following Saturday. He believed this would help build positive relations between police and the community.
“I’ll be there,” Lt. Demetrious Pittaoulis, an Administrative Officer for the 14th District, told the group. Not only did he show up at the food distribution on Saturday, April 17, but he also sent several officers to stop by throughout the day.
The presence of uniformed officers at the community site may have been alarming to some. That Saturday, we watched one elderly man, pushing his shopping cart, walk past the table with food where two officers were standing ready to help him load his cart. A Germantown Men Who Care member at the next table asked him, “Why did you walk by the first table?”
“I saw the police,” the man said. “They’re gonna lock me up!” Assuring the man that the police were there for food distribution, he walked the man back to the first table, where two officers helped him load his cart with groceries. As a senior, he was eligible for an additional once-per-month “Senior Box” that wouldn’t fit in his cart. So Officer Chad Jeter offered to carry the extra box and they walked together back to the man’s home.
Lt. Pittaoulis shared some positive news about a slight downward trend in crime in our district. He said that the 14th District saw 9 deaths from firearms this year to date, compared to 11 during the same period last year. The number of shooting victims (not resulting in death) went down as well, from 33 during the period last year to 29 this year.
Referring to a project aimed at reducing gun violence, Pittaoulis said that officers had made 94 arrests for violations of the Uniform Firearm Act in the district so far this year, compared to 22 gun arrests during the same period last year.
“It’s scary to know that so many guns are out there,” he said, but reducing the number of guns, he hopes, will prevent gun-related crimes from occurring. “One stat that we can’t put out is, how many shootings we have been able to prevent,” he said. “We will never know that.”
East Mt. Airy resident Barbara Turner, 74, is the President of the 14th District Police District Advisory Council (PDAC). Prior to the pandemic, her PDAC organized proactive community events such as partnering with Walmart to distribute backpacks to students, partnering with New Courtland to provide a Christmas dinner and toy distribution for families, and partnering with students from LaSalle University to provide a Thanksgiving dinner for police officers and staff.
“The whole idea,” Turner said, “is to link the police department with the community for the greater good of everybody.” Turner, a retired Philadelphia Housing Authority manager, and the nine other PDAC members have still found ways to support both community residents and police officers through food distributions, police appreciation activities, and community outreach.
On April 16, Turner and other PDAC members went to various “hot spots” in the Northwest to talk to residents about potential reactions to the upcoming verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. “During that day,” Turner said, “people were tense.” Organized by the Philadelphia Police Chaplains, they handed out fact sheets prepared by the ACLU entitled “Know Your Rights at a Protest,” advising protestors about what they were legally permitted to do when protesting and how to act when arrested. A second flier, authored by the Police Advisory Commission (PAC) provided information about “Police Accountability During Demonstrations.”
The PAC is a citywide oversight agency of the Philadelphia Police Department, which, according to the flier, is tasked with “helping to improve the relationship between the Police and the community.” The flier provides information such as the First Amendment right of citizens “to observe and record police officers engaged in the public discharge of their duties.” PAC receives complaints against police officers, forwards them for investigation, and monitors their investigation by the Philadelphia Police Internal Affairs Unit.
Turner acknowledges that working with the police can become controversial. “Right now,” she said “we have to be very cautious when we talk to adults about the police because they can become argumentative.” She responds to the criticism with a simple question, “Who would you call…if you got mugged, someone robs your house, or tries to snatch your pocketbook?”
The PDAC will participate in another planned “Prayer Walk” on May 20th at 6 p.m., which will begin at 5600 Chew Avenue. According to Officer Raubert Hicks, 14th District Crime Prevention Officer, the Prayer Walks are comprised of PDAC members, police clergy, police officers, community members, and stakeholders. “Stops are made along the way,” Hicks said, “where prayer walk participants engage in conversation with the community.”
Ms. Turner is looking to recruit new community members to join the 14th District PDAC. Anyone interested can contact Officer Dennis Smith, Community Relations Officer for the 14th District at 215-686-3140 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
All interested residents may participate in 14th District Public Safety meetings, held monthly and, for Police Service Area (PSA) 4, are led by Administrative Lieutenant Demetrios Pittaoulis. (PSA 4 covers the region from Northwestern Avenue to Allens Lane, Cheltenham Avenue to Germantown Avenue, and Chestnut Hill west of Germantown Avenue.) To receive the Zoom link, email Raubert.Hicks@Phila.gov.