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Will anyone lead Philadelphia?

No one is happy with the status quo created by the mayor's office, City Hall, the PD and the DA.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The lack of accountability in the Mayor’s office, in the chambers of City Hall, the District Attorney’s office, and Philadelphia Police Department’s headquarters has created a status quo that leaves no one happy.

The police don’t bother to arrest criminals, knowing that the DA won’t press charges. A 24-hour catch-and-release strategy doesn’t stop crime. The mentally ill struggle on the streets until they break a window and maybe spend the night in jail. Then they’re back out again with no support system. 

The drug addicted and down-on-their-luck swamp neighborhoods like Kensington, where they slowly waste away as the city ignores them. Residents navigate streets and parks filled with used needles, human refuse, and trash.

Criminals harass, assault, and add stress to the daily lives of too many people in this city. Conviction rates are so low partially because witnesses are hesitant to come forward. Even on the off chance that someone is punished for a shooting or a murder, witnesses have little faith that the police will keep them or their neighborhood safe. So why bother? Too many people in the city feel the police hassle them more than help them.  

Local businesses have noticed this lack of will to govern in City Hall. Some are counting down until their lease ends so they can get out. Others accept that they are responsible for creating a sense of order on their street.

Even in ritzy neighborhoods, the police have done little to maintain order. 

On August 23, a window at the Mac Mart, a mac ‘n cheese restaurant near Rittenhouse Square, was cracked after a disoriented man threw a large perfume bottle at it. The owner followed the man and found a policeman, telling the officer what happened. After the man admitted to the vandalism, the police officer shrugged it off, saying that nothing could be done. Crime Beat’s Paul Davis goes into more detail on this incident in his column this week.

After 6abc contacted the Philadelphia Police Department, authorities said they would open an investigation. While it’s nice to see a rebuke of officer apathy, it shouldn’t take the threat of local news media giving PPD some bad PR to get the police to do their job.

The responsibility goes beyond the police, though. The disoriented man who vandalized the Mac Mart was not mentally well; jailing him for a day before releasing him won’t do much. Where are his resources? What is the city doing to help him, and thousands of others like him? It is not compassionate to leave the mentally ill on the streets, letting them harm themselves or others.

The people in power are not using their power in the right way. This failure puts fear into local business owners and the general public, from walking home alone to using public transit to being alone anywhere in the city.

If Philadelphia lets this happen in Rittenhouse Square, just imagine how much worse it is in other parts of the city. When the police and City Council shamelessly ignore the decline of public order in rich neighborhoods, neglected neighborhoods have little hope of getting help with their problems.

The costs of disorder are getting pushed onto businesses and private citizens. The Mayor, the District Attorney, and City Council would rather snipe at each other in news reports than actually make a plan – together – to make Philadelphia a better place to live.

Are they funded by suburbanites who want new neighbors, or are they simply this provincial and incompetent? 

Expectations are set so low for the political leaders of this city. Yet politicians still disappoint. If they can’t do their jobs and avoid federal indictment, they should resign. Surely it’s not too much to ask that the police do the bare minimum to arrest vandals, the city provide social services to help the mentally ill, and the Mayor and City Council find a way to maintain public order.

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  • 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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