Crime in the West and Southwest Philadelphia areas is a major concern among the residents there.
While stepping up law enforcement efforts, both District Attorney Seth Williams and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey agree the police themselves won’t be enough to ensure the safety and well-being of any community. These communities must step up and augment the police department’s efforts.
One group, the Eastwick Bike Patrol, has taken this charge to heart. Formed in 1997 by Vincent Grant, members of the Eastwick Bike Patrol volunteer to patrol the city streets as a service to the community.
“We give back to the community,” said Grant whose patrol now has fifteen members. Safety is one mission of the bike patrol, but not it’s only mission.
Grant is passionate about reaching out to youth and incorporating them as cadets in order to teach them civic responsibility and instill in them a sense of social consciousness.
“I try to get young kids off the street and have them patrol the areas that they live in,” Grant said. “We have the younger kids come out, secure the area and make it safer for the residents who live in the community.”
The Young Cadets of the patrol operate under the care and supervision of the older, more experienced members of the patrol.
Sometimes Grant gets youth who are adjudicated by the courts to perform community service.
While these youth might be considered “bad” by some and come from areas rife with social problems, Grant acknowledges that some of his most promising cadets come from such youth who simply want an opportunity to do something meaningful. Grant said they often return to volunteer as members.
The name “Eastwick” might imply that the Eastwick Bike Patrol is geographically limited to the Eastwick area of the city, but this is not the case.
According to Grant, patrols are carried out wherever members themselves reside, and they have often received requests to begin tours in others areas of West and Southwest Philadelphia as well.
Patrols are divided into sectors.
“You have two bike units patrol the sector of a neighborhood, and these consist of an eight-block radius,” Grant said. “You have another patrol which covers another eight-block radius and so on.”
Sometimes Grant receives calls from other areas requesting that members patrol their neighborhoods, and members will be dispatched to that community as well.
“Not only do we open to a wider area than the Southwest community but we also go out to other areas to teach them how they can start a bike patrol [of their own] and be effective in doing so,” Grant said.
Members of the patrol aren’t simply assigned bikes and given a neighborhood to tour, they are provided with special training, assigned distinctive uniforms bearing the group’s name and given equipment such as hand held radios and handcuffs. And, in case you are wondering, members of the Eastwick Bike Patrol are authorized to make citizen’s arrests and can detain suspects expected of criminal activity until members of the Philadelphia police arrive on the scene.
“The way we dress and the way we present ourselves when we ride through our neighborhood, they [community members] realize who we are,” Grant said. “This helps to deter conflict. While members of the patrol are expected to intervene in the case of criminal activity, cadets, often the younger members, are not. They serve as the eyes and the ears of the community.”