The investigation into the abduction of five-year-old girl from her West Philadelphia elementary school continues — and so far police have more questions that they have answers — but the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 has offered a $5,000 reward for the arrest, and the Citizen’s Crime Commission has offered $5,000 for the arrest and conviction of the suspects in the case, which is being aggressively investigated.
Who was the person who walked into Bryant Elementary School at 60th Street and Cedar Avenue on the morning of January 14 and walked out with little Na’illa Robinson? She identified herself as the girl’s mother, but could have been anyone — maybe not even a woman — since several crimes have been committed in Philadelphia where the perpetrators wore female Muslim garb to hide their identities.
What was the motivation for the abduction? Where was the child taken and why was her clothing removed? Did she manage to escape on her own, or did the abductors get cold feet and dump her on a cold wet playground in the middle of the night where Good Samaritan Nelson Mandela Myers found her? What about the Philadelphia School District personnel whose antenna should have gone up when the abductor came for the girl? Why didn’t they act to prevent the abduction — and why didn’t they follow their own School District security protocols?
One thing police are sure of — this was not a random kidnapping.
“Whoever the suspect is, they went to her classroom and asked for her by name,” said Upper Darby Police Superintendant Mike Chitwood. “The suspect didn’t show any identification, but she signed in as ‘Tiffany’ and said she was going to get her niece and told school officials she was taking her to breakfast. We believe the suspect is a Black female in her twenties. She is about 5 feet, 5 inches tall and as we all know, she was wearing female Muslim garb.”
Capt. John Darby of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Special Victims Unit said investigators have been making headway and they have descriptions of two suspects connected to the case, a male and female. The woman who was dressed in female Muslim garb picked Na’illa up from school around 8:50 a.m. and then walked several blocks to a house. She is described as being about 5 feet 5 inches tall with greenish eyes. She had a thin build and dark skin and identified herself to the victim by the name Rashida. It’s also possible that she may be pregnant. The male suspect was inside the house, and Nailla was tied up and blindfolded. Her abductors apparently fed her. Police have been canvassing the neighborhood, from 56th Street to Cobbs Creek Parkway and along Spruce Street down to Christian Street. The male suspect is described as having a light complexion and in his mid 30’s. He has short brown hair and was wearing sweatpants and a light blue T-shirt.
Chitwood said the girl was taken from her school at approximately 8:50 a.m. and about an hour later she was reported missing. Philadelphia School District officials are concerned with the ease with which the suspect managed to take the girl
“We are very concerned that an adult was able to walk into a school, and then have a student released to them, without the appropriate protocols taking place,” said School District spokesman Fernando Gallard. “It resulted in a student walking away with an unknown individual, which puts students lives in danger. It is very disconcerting that it occurred; we are doing the utmost to make sure the procedures and policies are in place are reinforced, and to talk to every adult in the system so they know what is expected of them.”
Gaillard said that School District protocols are very specific, clear and simple. For someone to request a student to be released, they have to go to the administration office, identify themselves, show state issued ID; then an administrator has to view the file for the student to see if that person has the right to have the student released to them. He said any disciplinary actions taken against district personnel would be contingent on the facts once they become clear.
“At that point, the administrator calls the class, requests the student to be escorted to the administration office, and the student is released from the administration office. Administrators then have to look at interaction between student and adult, to make sure there’s a proper recognition of who the person is. You never know what occurs overnight in a household, something might have changed. Never are you supposed to walk to class, say ‘hello,’ and then have the teacher release students. People who are not staff members cannot freely walk in a building and access classrooms. That is not procedure. We always review protocols in situations where something like this occurs. The number one step is to underline to everyone that they must follow the protocols in place. In regard to any disciplinary action, we will wait until the facts are known, but will act quickly at that point. We will let the facts led us there.”
The victim’s grandfather, Imam Asim Abdul-Rashid of the Masjid of the Delaware Valley, said he and the local Islamic leadership have continually addressed the issue of criminals using Muslim attire to commit crimes.
“It was a woman who was dressed in Islamic attire that went to the school, pretended to be the child’s mother and took the kid out of school,” said Abdul-Rashid, speaking via cell phone from police headquarters just hours after his granddaughter had been found. “This is a town full of Muslim women, so we can’t say that this is the particular reason for [criminals] to dress like that is to commit crimes, because there are sincere Muslim women who cover themselves in Islamic manner.”
Abdul-Rashid said the Masjid of the Delaware Valley has offered at $20,000 reward for the capture and conviction of anyone who dresses in Muslim garb to commit a crime. Abdul-Rashid also confirmed that the women among his membership are keenly aware of their rights - and when a Muslim woman can and cannot reveal her face.
“Criminals apparently wear it to commit a crime without being identified, but we’ve already addressed that a Muslim woman should be properly identified while being dressed in that fashion,” Abdul-Rashid said. “There is no reason why a Muslim woman cannot expose her face for identification purposes. They know and are taught that.”
Aside from keeping a wary eye on miscreants masquerading as Muslims, Abdul-Rashid said the abduction of his granddaughter should lead to another dreadful realization - that a child predator is still at large.
“The community, West Philly in particular, should be alerted that there’s a child predator in the community. This is a case where the school was negligent in their procedures,” Abdul-Rashid said. “The police need to respond appropriately so the perpetrators of this crime can be caught, and do so aggressively. The information has to get out to the community that a child predator is on the loose.”
Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross said he can’t even get his mind around the fact that someone would commit such a heinous act against a child. He said he’s also concerned by the fact that the School District personnel on duty didn’t react.
“Based on the district’s protocols, it should have triggered something,” Ross said. “Right now, there are still a lot of questions in this bizarre case. The mere fact that you have a 5-year-old girl who was terrorized, who somehow ended up alone in the middle of an open field in the dead of winter is extremely disturbing. Whoever did this to her needs to be punished, and to the fullest extent of the law. We’re all just relieved that she was found and that she’s safe. Statistically speaking, this isn’t how most cases like this end.”
To submit a phone tip call 215.686.TIPS (8477) or text a tip to PPD TIP or 773847.
Rodney Ramseur and his girlfriend, Latia Jones, were sitting on the porch of his residence Monday evening, May 14 when an unidentified young Black male walked up to the couple and fired several shots, killing them both.
It’s early in the investigation and so far the actual motive hasn’t been determined, but detectives are speculating that Ramseur was targeted because he was a witness to a 2010 shooting. While that hasn’t been confirmed, it nonetheless has raised the issue of how to best protect witnesses in criminal cases — especially at a time of limited financial resources. Ramseur’s family is saying that he wasn’t protected by the police or the District Attorney’s office.
“We need our witnesses to fight crime and help get criminals off of our streets,” said Tasha Jamerson, spokesperson for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. “And the public should know that witness intimidation doesn’t just involve homicide cases, not anymore. Witnesses in illegal gun cases have been threatened also. But we are able to protect witnesses through our relocation program, and the public should also be aware of the fact that we have never turned anyone away who asked for our help. The police are very adept at determining when someone is being threatened. Any witness in any case who feels threatened would be offered services by both our office and the police department. We would never turn away anyone who asks for our help.”
In Philadelphia, the District Attorney’s office operates a witness relocation program. Witnesses who are going to testify in court can have themselves and their families moved on a moment’s notice to a safe location. No one who has been in the program and followed its protocols, such as staying out of previous neighborhoods, has ever been harmed.
It has often been said by numerous law enforcement officials and legislators that witness intimidation tears away at the very structure of the criminal justice system. When a crime has been committed and witnesses refuse to testify — either out of fear or the twisted code of ‘no snitching’ — cases can and often do get dismissed and criminals go free. On the federal level, witness protection has saved the lives of many people by providing not just relocation to another state but new identities as well. Of course, the witness takes considerable risks if they ever return to their old haunts — which is what happened to 23-year-old Chante Wright in 2008.
In January of that year, Wright returned to Philadelphia to see a relative who was gravely ill. She had been in federal witness protection after testifying against alleged drug dealer Hakim Bey in connection with the murder of Moses Williams in 2000. Bey is a relative of Dawud Bey, an associate of convicted drug dealer Kaboni Savage, who will be coming up for federal prosecution again in the case of the Coleman Family murders — a case where a family was killed in retaliation against a witness.
Wright had been in Philadelphia for only seven hours before she and her friend Octavia Green were both gunned down in the Grays Ferry section of Philadelphia, allegedly by Laquaille Bryant, an associate of Bey, who is now serving a life sentence for both murders. Wright was the second witness in the Moses Williams murder case, being killed after Omar Morris, who was shot to death on Christmas morning 2002.
“Witness intimidation affects many violent crime cases,” said Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams recently when he went before City Council to ask for additional funding to hire 13 additional assistant district attorneys. “The grim reality is that witness intimidation negatively affects virtually every homicide, and has been more and more of a factor in our non-fatal shootings as well. When there is witness intimidation, my assistant district attorneys must dedicate more time to the underlying cases, trying to ensure that victims and witnesses continue to cooperate and testify at trial. What we know is that the District Attorney’s Office is underfunded. I have said this during each of my prior two budget hearings. When you compare us to other prosecutors’ offices in the largest counties in the country, we now have the second lowest funding.”
One of the most notorious cases of retaliation against a witness in the city was the murders of the family of Eugene Coleman. Coleman, an associate of drug dealer Kaboni Savage, agreed with federal prosecutors to testify against Savage. In response, Savage allegedly ordered the deaths of Coleman’s family, who perished when their house was firebombed on October 9, 2004. The victims were Marcella Coleman, 54; Coleman’s infant son, Damir Jenkins, 15 months old; Marcella Coleman’s niece, Tameka Nash, 34; her daughter, Khadjah Nash, 10; Marcella Coleman’s grandson Tahj Porchea, 12; and a family friend, Sean Rodriguez, 15.
“Witness intimidation pervades our society, even in cases where it’s just perceived — that people just think they may be threatened,” said Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross. “It’s a problem across the country and in every criminal case and because of it, whether actual or just perceived, witnesses can be reluctant to come forward — and this is exactly what criminals want. It starts on the street with people who may have seen something and are told that if they say anything then something bad will happen. Now most of these guys don’t have the means to actually carry out a threat, but just the perception is often enough to deter witnesses. It ties our hands and emboldens criminals. But factually speaking it’s not as widespread as it is perceived to be — in the lion’s share of homicide cases it’s not an issue. Does it happen? Yes, but not nearly as often as people think it does.”
As the investigation into the murders of Ramseur and Jones continues, as of Tribune press time no suspects have been named. Ramseur had been a witness to the May 3, 2010, shooting of Savoeun Ning and had testified against the suspect, Garland Doughty on May 8. Doughty is now being held at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.
Eyewitnesses of the shooting described the suspect as a Black male who was wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans, who fled the scene down Third Street in the direction of Godfrey Avenue. Ramseur, who originally gave a statement against Doughty, recanted his earlier testimony during the May 8 hearing. Ramseur was known to police, who continue to investigate to determine the exact motive in his killing.
“We have to look at every possibility, especially in a case like this,” Ross said.
Homicide detectives continue to unravel what precisely sparked the double murder of two brothers inside an Overbrook Park residence this week, but there is no question that their home was what has been described by law enforcement authorities as a “nexus” of illegal drug activity.
Law enforcement officials also said that the older brother, Christopher Malcolm, 17, was allegedly into the drug game — and all indications are that he was the actual target.
“The older brother, this young boy was in it hard. He was moving serious drugs,” said Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross. “It looks like whoever the shooter was probably targeted him, and the younger brother was collateral damage. I was actually leaving a meeting and heading home when Chief Inspector Scott Small called me and said ,‘This is a really bad one.’
Christopher Malcolm had three prior narcotics arrests and convictions. Bennett had an arrest for a weapons offense.”
Investigators said that when they searched the home, they found more than $100,000 in cash, several handguns, a small amount of hydroponic marijuana and over 1,700 illegal prescription pills.
The illegal pharmacopeia included Xanax, Oxycodone, Percocet and six bottles of Codeine. Most of the illegal drugs were found inside of the parents’ bedroom, and although as of Tribune press time charges have not been filed against Rohan and Cynthia Bennett, they are being questioned and charges are pending.
Rohan Bennett was upstairs when the shooting happened with an 18-year-old friend of the family.
“What we have so far is a location where there was significant drug activity,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “It’s still early in the investigation, and we still don’t know exactly what sparked off the shooting. It might have been a home invasion, or a drug deal that went bad. Right now it looks as though the shooter was known to the victims. We found numerous prescription pills in the home, some marijuana, several handguns and a large amount of cash. A suspect has not been named yet, but we do have some direction and are optimistic that we’re going to find and arrest the person responsible. We’re sparing no effort on this case.”
The double murder happened Tuesday night around 7:30 p.m. From what police have been able to piece together so far, Malcolm and his brother, Rohan were in the living room with the still unidentified shooter when gunfire erupted. Malcolm was hit in the chest and lower right back. He was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where he was later pronounced dead. Rohan was shot multiple times and managed to crawl into the basement where he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Investigators said there are indications that Malcolm and the parents were allegedly involved in some kind of dispute over drugs and money. Precisely what the dispute was about remains to be uncovered by detectives, who reported that the drug operation was not small scale. Witnesses described the shooter as a light skinned Black male who was wearing a blue shirt. He fled from the home carrying a large bag; whether it contained drugs, money or both is not known at this juncture.
“Sometimes the lure of big, fast money gets to them,” Ross said. “But it’s a dangerous game and there really are no winners.”
Anyone living in an inner city Philadelphia neighborhood has heard the high pitch whine of dirt bikes and all terrain vehicles speeding up and down the streets in the summer, much to the annoyance and frustration of motorists and residents alike.
The vehicles are dangerous and illegal to operate on the streets, but that doesn’t deter bikers from weaving in and out of traffic, cruising full speed on sidewalks and making dangerous maneuvers. They also know the police are under orders not to pursue them.
This past Sunday though, a special task force of police officers had a surprise for operators of 26 ATVs and 11 dirt bikes in Kensington and North Philadelphia. Using unmarked cars, officers tracked the vehicles to the garages where they were housed and confiscated them. The Police Department is asking for the public’s anonymous assistance in locating where bikes might be housed — and the word is that the special operation is going to continue.
The problem is that once the police do their job, the seized vehicles eventually get turned over to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, who sells the bikes at monthly auctions to the public. If the bikes are registered, the police have to return them to the owner. If they’re stolen, police are often able to return them to their original owners, but unregistered bikes get handed over to PPA — something the police don’t like.
“I can say yes, the raids are going to continue, and this is going to happen in different sections of the city,” said Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross. “I can’t say where, only because that hasn’t been worked out yet but yes, we’re going to be continuing these seizures. What we don’t like is that it’s not within our legal rights to destroy them. To us, it’s the same as if we’re destroying illegal drugs or guns. Now, if we confiscate an unregistered dirt bike, what’s to stop an illegal rider from getting another one at the auction?”
Motorists and residents often complain to the police to do something about the proliferation of the vehicles, which are legal to own — but illegal and unsafe to operate on city streets.
An incident last month illustrates just how serious the problem has become. In the vicinity of Butler Street and Park Avenue, the driver of a dirt bike sped through the intersection without slowing down and smashed into a minivan. The operator of the bike and two small children in the van were seriously injured — the biker suffered injuries to the head, back and neck and shattered glass from the van cut the children. The biker was taken to Temple University Hospital.
The goal of police is to not just take the bikes off the streets, but to have them destroyed. Right now the Philadelphia Parking Authority sells towed and confiscated ATVs and dirt bikes — and listed five of them for sale on July 30. Two more were on its list for August 7 and three more for August 9.
“Confiscated dirt bikes and ATVs aren’t re-sold to their former owners,” said PPA Deputy Director Corinne O’Connor. “This is what happens: when the vehicles are confiscated by police they hold them for a certain number of days — it’s different with each vehicle — until they’re investigated and cleared. Once the police clear them, they hand the file on the vehicle over to us and we sell them to the public at auction. We’re not reselling them back to their former operators. Now if a bike is confiscated and it’s a registered licensed vehicle and the owner can prove that, then they can get it out of impoundment. ATVs are legal to own, just not legal to operate on the street — and that’s where the problem is. That’s why the police are trying to get the legal means to destroy bikes that are confiscated more than once.”
According to statistics from the website ATVSafety.gov, in Pennsylvania, between 1982 and 2010 there were 521 reported deaths related to ATVs. Information supplied by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that the number of four-wheel ATVs in use across the nation has increased from just over 2 million to more than 6.9 million over the past decade. Nationally, from 1982 through 2004, there were almost 6,500 deaths involving ATVs and 115,000 injuries in 2010. About 30 percent of all deaths and injuries from ATV accidents involve children younger than 16.
Statewide, National Transportation Safety Board figures show there have been 493 ATV-related deaths in Pennsylvania between the years 1982 to 2009. Between the years 1982 and 2006, there were 105 ATV-related deaths of children under 16 years old.
“Almost all of them are stolen, and there is no shortage of them,” said Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel. “They are a growing problem for us because it’s just too dangerous to pursue them, according to the Police Pursuit Directive, because they’re just too mobile. The last thing we want is to be chasing some of them and the drivers decide to run up on the sidewalks. But as fast as we get them off the streets, there are more of them. The thieves just head out to the suburbs and steal more. Now the public can help us with this. They have to be stored somewhere, in warehouses or garages. They have launch points, and if people know where those spots are they should call us so we can get them.”
Police chaplains provide an integral service to the Philadelphia Police Department and the community at-large. Often, when there’s a police shooting, murder, or community tragedy, local police chaplains are called in to provide spiritual comfort during these most sensitive ordeals.
According to the Philadelphia Police Department’s website, the “Police Chaplain Program provides a ministry presence to the department. The chaplains provide pastoral care to members of the department and their families. At times they also serve members of the general public including schools, parks, and neighborhoods.” Some of the primary services that police chaplains provide include:
Crisis Response - Emergency Responders on a 24 hour / 7 day a week basis (when incidents are reported to the Police Chaplains)
Crisis Intervention - Mediation or intervention for suicide attempts or threats
Death Notifications - Going with an officer to notify next of kin
Special Services - Funerals, memorial services, special department functions, officer graduations, etc.
The Rev. Noreen Pettaway is President, Police Chaplains — 22nd Police District Office.
“I was a police officer for approximately 22 years, I was assigned to the Fighting 92nd, which is closed down now, which was on Lincoln Drive, Fairmount Park Division.”
Now retired, Pettaway was the first female officer assigned to the 92nd District (1980-85); she retired serving in the 22nd District. During her tenure as a policewoman, she served in the Ethics Accountability Division, where she said she, “investigated police corruption. More or less, when we came after you, you had broken the law and you were going to jail.”
She was later assigned to the polygraph unit where she worked until retirement in 2001 After retiring from the police force, Pettaway said she had a calling on her life to pursue ministry. “I wanted to delve more into the Bible,” she said.
She then decided to matriculate to, “Eastern University, [to pursue an undergraduate degree in] biblical studies. It was right after 9/11.”
Her Master’s level study was in Systematic Theology, at Lutheran Theological Seminary.
“It kind of made me realize what one of my purposes was, and that was to be an advocate for social and/or justice issues, based on the theological foundation,” she said.
It was around 2007, “when a rash of police officers were getting killed” that she realized her calling. Pettaway decided to pursue the next chapter of her life, Police Chaplaincy. When Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey combined the 22nd and 23rd District clergy program, Pettaway pounced on the opportunity to join.
“I was appointed by, then Capt.Branville Bard. Our present Captain is Officer Roland Lee. I’ve been blessed to work under great captains, they support the program,” she said.
Police chaplains do not have to be former police officers, many are ordained pastors and/or clergy leaders from around the city representing diverse faiths.
“We are a supportive unit for the police department, to be spiritually here for the police department. We try to be proactive, we do roll calls; we do ride-alongs [with officers]; we’re on-call; we do hospital visits; we do things like that in the community. And every third Friday of the month, weather permitting, we do prayer walks in the community. And that gets the community involved,” she said.
“Formerly, this program [Police Clergy Program] started under the Mayor’s Office, but it kind of morphed into a program that was taken over by the police department,” said Officer Richard Ross, 1st Deputy Police Commissioner. Ross oversees the citywide Police Chaplains program.
“Divisionally, we have six police divisions, and we have a [chaplain] president for each division,” Ross said. Ross holds quarterly meetings that bring the chaplains together to discuss new business, training issues and to allow the sharing of best practices “to improve the program.”
“I like the fact that these men and women respond to our call. And, so, we’ve had a series of misfortunes, some of which have been the loss of life of police officers, and/or serious injuries. And many [chaplains] have stepped up to the plate in a way that I just can’t begin to describe. They’ve been there, not only for the police families, but for the families of the fallen officers. I have had instances where a chaplain was able to stave off conflict as a result of a police discharge. I’ve had chaplains who have spearheaded training programs that are designed to deal with grieving families and grieving police families, as a result of suicide, and have set-up different counseling programs,” he said.
The Philadelphia Police Chaplains Program is a volunteer initiative. To qualify for participation, interested candidates must be local clergy and meet the following qualifications:
A U.S. Citizen who resides in Philadelphia County.
An ordained clergy (chaplain) of a faith-title (i.e., “minister,” “imam,” and “rabbi” are titles, etc.)
And are written endorsement from your church’s or serving authorizing body
And can pass a criminal history background check stating no past or present incidental police arrest or detainment by jailor.
For more information about the Police Chaplains Program, in the 22nd District, contact Officer Shannon Moore, Community Relations Division, at (215) 686-3220. Or, you can contact the closest Philadelphia Police District office nearest you for chaplaincy service in your neighborhood.
The murder of Alisa Canty, like so many others in Philadelphia, was an act of cowardice sparked by the misguided street subculture.
At the publishing of this story the investigation continues into the deadly shooting that left the 31-year-old mother dead and her 5-year-old daughter wounded. Police are hunting for the gunmen who left the 7300 block of Theodore Street littered with shell casings, and officials say they know who they’re looking for although the names of the suspects haven’t been released yet.
“We know she wasn’t the intended target, her ex-boyfriend was,” said Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross of the Philadelphia Police Department.
“We have some very good direction in this case,” said Capt. James Clark of the Homicide Unit. “I would say we’ll be making arrests very soon. The ex-boyfriend has got some baggage; he is known to us, and the shooting happened as a result of his criminal past. As far as we know, she wasn’t involved at all. We got a lot of anonymous calls on this case.”
The shooting happened Tuesday afternoon just after 4 p.m. in the 7300 block of Theodore Street, in the city’s 12th Police District. Canty was in the vicinity picking up her ex-boyfriend, Rashid Woods, 20, to take him back to the halfway house where he had been staying. Canty’s 5-year-old daughter was in the backseat of the vehicle. Woods, who was recently released from prison, is also the father of Canty’s 18-month-old twins who were not present at the time. He was sitting in the front passenger seat with Canty in the driver’s seat, the engine still running.
Investigators said at that moment, two gunmen walked up to the car and started shooting. Canty was struck in the arm and chest. He daughter was grazed by gunfire in the back of her head. Woods jumped out of the car and fled the scene. He was unhurt by the gunfire. Police recovered 23 shell casings and other ballistic evidence from the scene and also recovered a small bag of heroin near Canty’s vehicle.
As of Tribune press time, Woods has not been charged with anything and the 5-year-old daughter was treated at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and released.
“I spoke with the detectives on the case and they’ve got some very good direction regarding who did this,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “Right now it’s just a matter of having enough evidence before we can go to the district attorney and file charges — but we’re confident we’re going to bring this one in, we’ve got some pretty good direction on who did it. It definitely looks as though the victim was not the intended target, her boyfriend was. He’s someone who was involved with drugs and unfortunately she was killed because of it; they were shooting at him and wound up killing her. We recovered 23 shell casings from the scene and other ballistic evidence from two different guns; one of them was a .9mm. There’s also evidence that the boyfriend was armed; there was at least one return round fired. We found some heroin near the back of the vehicle which we assume was his.”
City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson was in the vicinity Wednesday night, along with police officers who were speaking with local residents. Johnson was in the neighborhood speaking with neighbors about the importance of community involvement in helping police arrest violent criminals.
“Enough is enough, these violent incidents must stop,” Johnson said. “This is about the quality of life for the residents of Southwest Philadelphia. I am committed to stand with the citizens to bring attention to these acts of senseless violence.”
Johnson said he plans to hold a City Council hearing to examine the city’s comprehensive strategy on gun violence and its effect on Philadelphians from a public health perspective.
Police and city officials broke ground on a new special victim’s center on Friday in Hunting Park, which will allow victims, their advocates, the police and prosecutors to come together at one location to investigate criminal allegations involving children.
“This co-location facility is critical to coordinating crime response strategies across the City of Philadelphia,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, one of several officials on hand for a ceremonial groundbreaking. “Bringing together these different agencies that share the same goal, to support and protect the victims of sexual abuse, will further enhance the efficiency of investigations and the efficacy of services provided to victims.”
The facility, at 300 E. Hunting Park Ave., will bring together the police department’s Special Victim Unit, the city’s Department of Human Services Sexual Abuse Investigations Unit, Philadelphia Children’s Alliance and the district attorney’s office.
Plans include a renovation and expansion, adding to the 30,000 square-foot building on the site. A 10,000 square foot addition will be added. The expanded space will feature a new, landscaped courtyard and a parking lot for approximately 140 vehicles. Once completed, the facility will have two entrances with police and district attorney’s sharing one, and DHS and PCA sharing another.
Officials expect the building to be done early next year.
At the moment, victim services are spread over four buildings in Center City.
The Philadelphia Children’s Alliance helps police and attorneys interview victims of sexual abuse without re-traumatizing them. They operate in a small facility near City Hall. The new building will give them more space.
“Our dream is truly becoming a reality today as we break ground on this remarkable facility,” said Chris Kirchner, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance. “This co-located facility will be a testament to how much the City of Philadelphia cares about its kids, and how child victims of sexual abuse deserve the best response when they have the courage to share what happened to them.”
With DHS officials also in the building, investigations should go more smoothly.
“We are thrilled to be breaking ground on this co-location facility that will enable DHS and our partner agencies to provide better care and services to children who have been sexually abused,” said DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose. “The thoughtful design of the center will allow us to lessen the trauma of the investigative process so victims will no longer have to repeatedly relive the events of their assault”
Police and prosecutors lauded the new facility too.
“We have to do everything we possibly can to help victims of sexual abuse,” said Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross. “The process of coming forward will always be difficult, but we [the Police], DHS and our advocate partners can work as a system to treat everyone with compassion.”
This is not only an extremely important day, it is very long overdue,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “For over 20 years now the district attorney’s office has been working with the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance to make this day a reality.”
Mayor Michael Nutter told The Tribune at an editorial board meeting on Monday that while the federal government had justifiably marshaled enormous resources to combat international terrorism, there hasn’t been a comparable response to crime and violence in America’s cities.
Nutter, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said such a response is needed to address the street violence perpetrated across the nation every year. To that end, he has drafted a proposal calling for the creation of a National Commission on Domestic Terrorism, Violence and Crime in America.
“The federal government should expend the tremendous resources it has to track down international terrorists and fight them,” he said. “But when it comes to domestic terrorists – and let’s face it, if little children can’t play outside, and people are prisoners in their homes because of the crime and violence on our streets - that’s terrorism. In America we have 11,000 or 12,0090 people murdered every year. We need a comparable response to that kind of terrorism, and we haven’t seen that. When 9/11 happened, the Department of Homeland Security was created from scratch; we changed the laws governing civilian flights, changing the way people fly forever. Whenever we decide we want to do something, we do it. We sent people to the moon because we wanted to. We can do the same when it comes to crime and violence.”
The proposal calls for Congress to establish a joint investigatory committee to look at crime and violence and their prevention. If established, the committee would make recommendations on what government can do on the local, state and federal levels to reduce domestic terrorism, violence and crime.
The mayor’s remarks were part of a candid editorial board meeting at the Tribune. Nutter said that while the number of homicides in Philadelphia has dropped for the first quarter of 2013, the next six months could drastically alter things — and that’s something no one wants to see.
The mayor was joined by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross, who pragmatically stated that while the city has made progress when compared to other years, it’s still not time for the victory party. Not with a 15-year old boy – the latest victim to gun violence — fighting for his life. The boy, who was shot on Sunday afternoon in the 400 block of East Washington Lane, was hit in the chest just after 3:30 p.m. Nutter said that while the number of homicides is down,, shooting victims are being hit multiple times, and there are more high-powered firearms on the streets.
“We’ve had a good quarter, but obviously a quarter doesn’t make a year — and this could change over the next six months,” he said. “Of course that’s not something we want to see happen. So far we’ve had a 39 percent reduction in homicides [from last year] – and when we compare those numbers with the first quarter of 2007, it shows a 47 percent reduction. When we came in office in 2007 I stated that I wanted to see a 30 percent drop in homicides, so we’re a little ahead of that. Everything is generally in comparison to trends in previous years. The first quarter of 2013 was significantly better than the first quarter of 2012, which was pretty bad, the first three months were hard for us and we ended 2012 with 331 homicides.”
Nutter said that 2012 was only slightly better than 2011, when the city saw 324 people killed. For the first quarter of 2012 there were 89 homicides. For the first quarter of 2013 there have been 54 homicides. Ramsey said the Police Department has not only redeployed manpower, but replaced individuals in key positions.
“Sometimes, as with any job, someone can get burned out and you need fresh eyes. We’re doing a lot of things differently,” he said. “We reorganized manpower and our task forces. We started seeing results last year and identified 32 hot spots citywide. In different districts there are different problems. In the Northwest part of the city we see more property crimes, whereas in the Southwest there’s more gun violence. The district attorney’s office has its own initiatives such as recommending high bail for the most violent offenders – keeping them off the streets.”
Maybe different police tactics are having an impact, or it could be a combination of different variables, but the number of murders in Philadelphia has significantly dropped.
As of Tribune press time there have been 54 homicides in Philadelphia this year, a 47 percent reduction from this same time last year when there were 89 homicides in the city. Looking back even further by April 4, 2007 there were 102 murders in the city and statistics show that the city is seeing some of the lowest violent crime numbers in 20 years.
No one in law enforcement circles is going to shout victory, and the coming warmer weather could change everything — but at least for now, Philadelphians can look around and know that the city is just a little safer.
Of course, that could rapidly change.
“Around here we really don’t talk about it, because we could have one bad weekend and this could change very quickly,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross. Ross said he couldn’t attribute the drop in homicides to any one particular strategy the police were employing, or a specific community action. It’s a combination of many different strategies on the legislative and law enforcement end, many different community groups working together and the constant flow of information from the community.
“We had some major command changes throughout the department at the beginning of the year,” Ross said. “In addition we’re always focusing on certain areas in the city, focusing on problem spots in ways we hadn’t done before, and there is a lot of partnering between the department and other law enforcement agencies. But even with the work done by the various community groups, the tips we get from residents in troubled neighborhoods and all of the work we do, there has to be a change in the quality of life, and that’s where the heart of the problem is. So yes, we’ve seen a drop in the number of murders, but one bad weekend could change all of that.”
In Philadelphia, one of the continuing variables that drive the murder rate is the continued flow of illegal firearms. For 2011 there were 324 homicides in the city; 265, or more than 81 percent, were committed with firearms, and only three of them were committed by a shotgun or rifle. Statistics show that 56 were done with a .9mm, the handgun of choice for street crime, 23 were committed by a .45-caliber and 27 by a .40-caliber handgun. In other cases handguns of various calibers were used. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report for 2011 shows there were 12,664 murders reported in the United States; 67.8 percent were committed with firearms, and 72.5 percent of those were done with handguns.
On Thursday, state Sen. Larry Farnese and District Attorney Seth Williams announced that new legislation was being enacted that would set a two-year mandatory minimum sentence for carrying an illegal gun in Philadelphia.
Two laws – one introduced in the state S of Representatives – would make carrying an illegal gun in Philadelphia a third-degree felony and add a mandatory minimum sentence of at least two years’ jail time for convicted offenders.
“This legislation, which I’m proud to be working on with my friend state Rep. John Taylor, not only sets a mandatory minimum sentence for illegally carrying a gun in Philadelphia, but it gives Philadelphia’s law enforcement community an important new tool that will help curb gun violence and keep illegal weapons out of the hands of criminals,” Farnese said in a press release. “In the end it all comes down to making sure, no matter where you live or work in Philadelphia, that everyone is safe from illegal guns and gun violence.”
The legislation would increase the sentence for illegally carrying a firearm a third-degree felony and add a mandatory minimum sentence of at least two years. Right now the offense is a misdemeanor.
“This legislation will make the message loud and clear — if you carry an illegal gun in Philadelphia, you will go to prison. This bill targets those criminals with illegal guns who terrorize our neighborhoods and make Philadelphia less safe. These offenders need to be in prison, not out on our streets,” said Williams.