More police presence, less crime in Frankford

Safety in numbers: Members of the 15th Police District patrol the neighborhood. Early indicators suggest that the new Frankford Safe Grid Bicycle Task Force has helped decrease crime in the area. TIMES FILE PHOTO

Two months into a new police bicycle patrol initiative in Frankford, supervisors of the program say they are making a big impact on crime statistics and public attitudes in perhaps the Northeast’s most troubled neighborhood.

While it may be a bit premature to place too much credence in comparative data, early indicators suggest that criminal activity is on the decline while police activity is on the rise in the targeted area and beyond.

On Oct. 17, the Northeast Times met with Capt. Anthony Luca and Sgt. Brian Hennessey of the 15th Police District to find out how the new Frankford Safe Grid Bicycle Task Force has been faring. Almost two months earlier, the newspaper had accompanied the task force on its first day in the neighborhood. An article about that first encounter appeared in the paper’s Aug. 31 editions.

The targeted area comprises only a small section of the 15th district, which is one of the largest and most populated among the city’s 21 police districts. Historically, it is also the busiest in volume of 911 calls, although other districts are more notorious for violent crime.

The Frankford Safe Grid spans a seven-block by three-block section of Frankford where crime rates are relatively high. The area straddles Frankford Avenue with a northern boundary at Brill Street near the SEPTA transportation center. Arrott and Margaret streets form the southern boundary.

From Aug. 22 through Oct. 14, the bicycle cops responded to 201 police radio calls; made 31 major crimes arrests and 11 narcotics arrests; and seized three illegal guns. They wrote 21 code violations, 10 traffic violations and 10 parking violations; dispersed 154 disorderly crowds; and conducted 561 vehicle or pedestrian investigations. They cited 46 juvenile curfew violators and 27 truants.

And they attracted a lot of positive feedback from the people who live and do business nearby.

“The businesses and the residents in the area are behind us one hundred percent. There are also people who don’t like police, but the overwhelming support we’ve gotten from people down there has changed my view on policing. They’ve been great,” said Hennessey, who supervises the nine-officer task force.

“They have a lot more people coming forward now to report crimes because they feel safer now,” Luca said.

In terms of reportable crimes, the sample size is too small to draw any definitive conclusions statistically.

For the two months before the police bicycles began patrolling, there were four shooting victims, eight aggravated assaults, three robberies and five burglaries documented in the safe grid.

From Aug. 22 through Oct. 20, the district recorded one shooting victim, six aggravated assaults, one robbery and one burglary while the bicycle patrol was on duty. The patrol worked 47 of 59 days in that span, eight hours each day.

Meanwhile, Luca contends, the bike patrols are contributing to an overall decline in crime throughout the 15th district, a territory that includes Bridesburg, Wissinoming, Tacony, Mayfair and Holmesburg in addition to all of Frankford.

The police department tracks crime data in four-week increments. During the period ending Oct. 16, violent crime was down 27 percent district-wide compared to the same four-week period last year. That included a 28-percent reduction in homicides, 22 percent in gunpoint robberies and 23 percent in other types of robberies.

In terms of year-to-date data, the district has had 8-percent less violent crime in 2016 than it did in 2015. Luca noted that the district began the year with violent crime on the rise, but began to reverse the trend in early spring.

“We were trending in the right direction. Now we’re getting double-digit reductions across all categories,” Luca said.

Using bicycles in the Frankford Safe Grid helps impact the whole district because it allows supervisors to reduce the saturation of patrol cars in Frankford while reassigning them to other neighborhoods, Luca said. And it allows the patrol cops to stay in Bridesburg or Tacony and Mayfair without being diverted into Frankford in response to emergency calls.

“We’re handling all radio assignments in that (Frankford) grid,” Hennessey said of the bicycle patrols.

Anecdotally, emergency calls seem to decline when the bicycle cops are on duty.

“You can hear it on the (police) radio. There are less calls for service when we’re down there,” Hennessey said.

That impacts the overall climate of the neighborhood.

“(Criminals) are gone. They’re out of view of the public. There are less victims now and that changes the neighborhood in terms of more stability,” Luca said.

With any targeted enforcement police initiative, sustainability is a primary concern. For example, four years ago Luca was a lieutenant in the 25th district when he launched a similar bicycle program for the East Division. The patrols continue today. And while they have been successful in cleaning up the targeted areas, many criminals probably relocated elsewhere. So what’s to say that the police bicycles in Frankford won’t simply push the problems into another neighborhood?

“I think the climate here is different than in the East Division, where there are million-dollar drug markets,” Luca said. “In the East Division, the reward (for drug dealers) is much greater than the risk of being caught.”

Another key difference is that the Northeast has a lot more community involvement than in the East Division, such as diligent Town Watch groups and civic associations, according to the captain.

The bicycle program “is sustainable and will be added on,” Luca said. “I’d like Brian to have up to 12 officers so we could split that grid and enhance it.” ••