Decline in crime

Strength of the cycle: Sgt. Brian Hennessey leads a police bicycle patrol through the 15th Police District. The district has seen a double-digit decline in crime since the initiative was introduced in October. TIMES FILE PHOTO

15th Police District expands bicycle patrols after early success of program.

Since the 15th Police District launched daily bicycle patrols in a high-traffic part of Frankford last summer, there has been a double-digit decline in the major crime rate throughout the district.

Earlier this week, the 15th expanded its bicycle patrols into Tacony, hoping to reduce crime further district-wide while contributing to revitalization of the Torresdale Avenue corridor through community policing.

The new patrol will consist of two officers who will cover Torresdale Avenue from Levick Street to Cottman Avenue, a length of about 11 blocks. The patrol sector or “grid” will include a block or two on each side of the avenue, although the boundaries are flexible, according to Capt. Anthony Luca, commander of the 15th district.

The 15th Police District Advisory Council, a civilian nonprofit police advocacy group, donated about $1,000 to outfit the new bicycle officers with riding gear. The district already had the needed bicycles. Luca said he reassigned two officers from the district’s tactical squad, also known as the “5-squad,” so no officers will be removed from other regular patrol beats.

In Frankford, the targeted grid is about the same size — 11 blocks long and three or four blocks wide — but its daily bicycle patrols usually include eight officers and a supervisor. Historically, Frankford has had a lot more violent crime than Tacony. But both areas have seen high volumes of drug activity, prostitution and property crime in recent years.

“The Frankford area is more challenging, more demanding,” Luca said. “It’s the nucleus of our district. If we shut (crime) down there, the district shuts down.”

Yet, crime problems can easily migrate to other areas. Luca saw that first hand as a lieutenant in the city’s East Division, when he launched a bicycle patrol detail in the 25th district, which covers portions of North Philly and Kensington. Statistically, crime declined in the targeted area, but Luca saw where it went after becoming captain of the 15th in March 2016.

TIMES FILE PHOTO

“The East Division (bicycle) deployment pushed a lot of prostitutes up Torresdale Avenue,” Luca said. In Tacony, “it’s not brothels. It’s streetwalkers.”

The leader of the local town watch group has seen the same phenomenon.

“Two of the biggest problems we have right now are narcotics and prostitution,” said Joe Nicoletti, president of the Tacony-Holmesburg Town Watch, the city’s oldest civilian town watch group. “We’ve been dealing with prostitution for quite some time. We get some wins and some losses, but we never seem to get rid of the problem altogether.”

The police department’s Citywide Vice Unit has made more than 130 prostitution-related arrests along Torresdale Avenue in the 15th since Luca’s arrival in the district.

“And they’re still out there,” the captain said. “They’re a very hard obstacle to overcome because of the legal system. They don’t stay in custody very long and then they’re back out on the street again.”

That’s why Torresdale Avenue seemed a likely place to expand the bicycle patrols after their success in Frankford. Community organizations including the Town Watch, CDC and Tacony Civic Association have been lobbying for more coverage, as has City Councilman Bobby Henon, who has a district office on Torresdale.

“(Luca) has worked with me and the community on our requests for more police coverage,” Henon said. “When you have police officers who are going to be patrolling on bikes, it’s good for public safety, quality of life and appearance.”

Since the regular bicycle patrols began in Frankford last August, the targeted grid has seen reductions in most major crime areas, compared to the same dates of the prior year. Robberies declined from 36 to 24 (33 percent), gunpoint robberies from 19 to 15 (21 percent), shooting victims from 12 to 10 (7 percent), homicides from two to one (50 percent), burglaries from 25 to 23 (8 percent) and thefts from autos from 16 to five (68 percent).

Similarly, crime has declined throughout the entire 15th district, which also includes Bridesburg, Wissinoming, Mayfair and Holmesburg. As of March 26, major crime was down 17 percent district-wide year-to-date compared to 2016, while violent crime was down 7 percent. A reduction in aggravated assaults from 105 to 69 (34 percent) weighed heavily on the overall total.

Meanwhile, property crimes had declined by 20 percent (837 to 671) year-to-date, with the greatest reductions in residential burglary (41 percent), commercial burglary (33 percent), thefts from auto (36 percent) and thefts (31 percent).

The bicycle officers have been very active in Frankford, Luca said. In one four-day period, March 15 through 18, they responded to 50 emergency calls, dispersed 30 disorderly crowds, conducted 42 vehicle investigations and 48 pedestrian investigations, issued 21 curfew violations, wrote two traffic tickets, made four misdemeanor-level arrests and made three arrests for quality-of-life violations.

In Tacony, Luca wants the two bicycle officers to emphasize visiting businesses along the avenue to meet the shopkeepers and learn what’s been troubling them. The uniformed police presence on the avenue is meant to deter crime and will be welcomed by the business community.

“I’m a big proponent of community policing,” said Alex Balloon, executive director of the Tacony Community Development Corporation. “I think the most effective policing takes place when you have officers meeting business owners and community members. It makes it easier for them to express their concerns about what’s going on. I think it fits perfectly into our clean and safe strategy.”

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work with the community to revitalize Torresdale Avenue to benefit the people who live and do business there,” Henon said.

The CDC has led several major revitalization efforts along the avenue. It’s helped many businesses make physical improvements to their storefronts through grant funding and helped about 10 businesses install some 60 surveillance cameras through the city Commerce Department’s Business Security Camera Grant Program.

“Going back to our strategic plan in 2011, we had identified building better and stronger relationships with police,” Balloon said. “We have worked with police on a number of things, like problem properties. We view this as an expansion of our relationship with police and with other community organizations.”

“Community policing is what it’s all about, the officers getting to know the business owners and developing relationships,” Nicoletti added. “I think this is going to help, as long as we remain consistent on it. It’s got to be day in and day out over a long period of time. I’m encouraged by it.” ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.