Does the city care about public safety anymore?

Photo by Flex Point Security on Unsplash

The city is admitting defeat. If locals want a police detail to address reckless behavior on the streets, they have to raise the money themselves.

According to a letter sent to the Symphony Residence Tower Condominium Association, the Avenue of the Arts, Inc. is coordinating a fundraiser “for a special police detail along South Broad Street” to deal with illegal ATVs and dirt bikes on the streets.

The letter, signed by Avenue of the Arts Executive Director Laura Burkhardt, states that they want to raise $50,000 from local condo associations along Broad Street and already have a $25,000 matching contribution secured.

“This privately funded effort will not use any monies or other police resources normally dedicated to regular policing efforts. This program will be entirely funded by private contributions,” Burkhardt writes.

In an interview, Burkhardt said they weren’t really having a fundraiser. “We are preparing for the reopening of the Avenue of the Arts, we’re preparing for venues to be full, restaurants to be thriving, and for the hotels to be full of tourists visiting our city to celebrate the arts,” she said.

Though the letter mentioned beginning the police patrols “shortly after the 4th of July,” Burkhardt framed it as preparing for events in August and September.

“Just like any other special event that happens in Philadelphia, we are talking about providing some additional safety measures during that time frame,” she said.

A spokesman for the Philadelphia Police Department said they couldn’t offer details on the initiative, saying it’s a private contract made with the city, so the police department doesn’t know about it.

While I, for one, appreciate rich people picking up some of the tab for public safety, is Philly really in such dire straits that the city will respond to a public safety issue only if its citizens agree to a shakedown? The persistent problems with dirt bikes, ATVs, and reckless driving in any sort of vehicle is an utter failure of responsibility and governance. 

If this is how wealthy and influential residents of the city are treated, just imagine the lack of respect the city has for those who lack their access to power. Illegal ATVs and dirt bikes on the roads create a hazard and are a public nuisance, but the issue goes beyond some youths causing a ruckus. 

The issue is revealing of city leadership that is too incompetent or too apathetic to care about people. 

Sure, the police have bigger problems than illegal dirt bikes. But even ignoring that problem, murders and shootings have been intolerably high in 2021. Most murderers and violent criminals in the city have little reason to fear the police. When the police do arrest them, the district attorney rarely follows through with pressing charges. When the city can’t get smaller things like reckless driving under control, it’s a sign that they can’t stop the bigger things either.

When the bigger things unravel, City Council points fingers and passes the buck. They blame Mayor Kenney for not declaring a symbolic emergency declaration about gun violence, as if it would grant the city magical powers (it would not). The Mayor then makes a statement, and little else changes.

At no point does the Mayor or City Council take responsibility.

No one is saying crime and poverty are easy problems to solve. But this city needs leaders willing to admit when something isn’t working and change course. What will it take to find half-competent leaders for Philadelphia? How far must the city fall, how many people will have to die?

Philadelphia’s fatal shooting rate is now higher than every city with at least 1 million people. Higher than Houston. Higher than New York. Higher, even, than Chicago. Cities live and die by how well they can preserve public order and keep crime low. For too long, city leaders ignored the “bad” neighborhoods, leaving the poor and the suffering to their fate. Instead of reversing course and improving the worst-off neighborhoods, a race to the bottom is on the horizon. Elected politicians now neglect all parts of the city. If residents don’t like it, well, they can move to the suburbs.

The rhetoric has changed, but the city keeps unraveling. Unless something is done, the bright future of Philadelphia could disappear before it fully begins.

  • Anthony Hennen

    Anthony Hennen is executive editor of Philadelphia Weekly. He is managing editor of expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region. Previously, he was managing editor at the James G. Martin Center, a higher ed think tank in Raleigh, North Carolina. Anthony grew up on the Ohio/West Virginia border. @anthonyhennen.

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