[Editor’s Note: Recently, Councilmember Cherelle Parker hosted a half-day combined hearing of Council’s Law and Government, and Commerce and Economic Development committees for the express purpose of focusing on “the relationship between public safety and the economic vitality of neighborhood commercial corridors, and to further explore any and all broad-based, neighborhood-focused, and inter-governmental public safety initiatives that have worked in the city in the past, and have worked or are working in other cities.”
That’s a mouthful, but it turned out to be a wide-ranging examination of ideas that can jumpstart neighborhood revitalization throughout the city. A diverse lineup of commercial corridor representatives testified to the need for better police training and service, as well as more community policing and bike and foot patrol. Time and again, Parker emphasized the need to invest in education and workforce training—but also in community policing. “Not every police officer is Derek Chauvin,” she said after praising two bicycle patrolmen who used to patrol in her district who had developed trusted personal relationships with local businesses and citizens alike.
Here, the testimony from Center City District President and CEO Paul Levy, who shares police recruitment ideas from Chicago and Boston that could go a long way towards melding law enforcement and community.]
I want to thank Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker and other members of the Committee on Law and Government, and the Committee on Commerce & Economic Development for convening this hearing to examine the relationship between public safety and the economic vitality of neighborhood commercial corridors, and to explore any and all broad-based, neighborhood-focused, and intergovernmental public safety initiatives that have worked in the city in the past, and have worked or are working in other cities.
Clean and Safe is the Foundation for Economic Recovery
Let me start with a simple assertion: If we don’t address public safety issues in our neighborhoods, in downtown and in University City, we will not fully recover from the economic impact of this pandemic. We currently have a huge job deficit: 123,400 jobs were lost in Philadelphia during the first two months of the pandemic in 2020.
We have restored 52,500, or 43 percent, of those lost jobs. But we are still 70,900 jobs short of where we were in February 2020 and even then, our shortage of jobs left us with the highest poverty rate of the 10 largest American cities.
Clean and safe is the essential foundation on which we build jobs and businesses. Customers, visitors and residents return to corridors that are clean, safe and lively; their recurring purchases and activity allows businesses to open, thrive, grow, and hire. This is applicable to every part of the city.
While there has been very appropriate and necessary attention to the epidemic of gun violence in some of our neighborhoods, I am here to say—sadly—that concerns about crime and safety and basic quality of life issues are a citywide challenge, impacting not only neighborhoods and commercial corridors across the city, but also Center City and University City, which account for 53 percent of all jobs in Philadelphia. We should not juxtapose downtown and neighborhoods; we should improve services and safety everywhere.
What we have done in Center City
For 30 years the CCD has worked in partnership with the City of Philadelphia and with the full support of City Council. In addition to our sidewalk cleaners, the CCD has deployed, seven days a week, uniformed, unarmed, public safety and hospitality staff who patrol in the day and evening on defined foot beats throughout Center City and serve as cross between a professional town watch and a walking hotel concierge. They carry no weapons and have no authorization to use force. They are eyes and ears for the Philadelphia Police and also for the Streets Department and L&I, reporting problems to the appropriate agency. They aim to create a secure, well-managed and welcoming environment for everyone.
If we don’t address public safety issues in our neighborhoods, in downtown and in University City, we will not fully recover from the economic impact of this pandemic.
We call them Community Service Representatives or CSRs. Their visible presence on the street is a deterrent to crime and a source of information for residents, workers and visitors. They speak multiple languages. The basic requirements for the job are: a high school degree or equivalent; two years of college or two years of work experience in a related field such as tourism, hospitality, retail or security; but most important, outstanding customer service and excellent interpersonal skills. We look for people who like to talk to and help other people.
Some of our CSRs work in partnership—in a co-delivery service model—with Project HOME and the CIT trained police service detail, helping connect unhoused people on our streets with services and housing. We are hiring right now.
The starting salary is $33,280, plus full benefits and tuition reimbursement. Many have been with us for 10, 20 and even one for 30 years, so their compensation grows over time. But others leave with college degrees and move on to new jobs. Like our sidewalk cleaners, CSRs come from neighborhoods across Philadelphia.
As a business improvement district we have the benefit of assessing high-value, downtown real estate. It is not realistic to expect most commercial corridors in places outside of Center City and University City to generate the revenues locally to afford a service like this, beyond their basic commitment to cleaning and assistance to small businesses. But the City can help.
What the City Can Do
Most of you are familiar with the Philadelphia Police Explorer Cadet Program, designed to introduce young adult men and women 14 to 20 years of age, to careers in public safety. Let me describe how similar programs in Boston and Chicago may provide models for expanding what we do in Philadelphia and rebuilding the ranks of our police department.
Chicago’s Police Cadet Program is aimed at a slightly older demographic, individuals ages 18 to 21, who are enrolled in an accredited college or university that grants Associate’s and BA degrees. This is a paid position. Cadets are given rotating assignments with flexible hours so they can attend college classes while working within the Chicago Police Department.
It is a very effective way to attract local residents into the police department, while helping to fill, vacant administrative positions within the department. Without realizing it, you already know about the benefits of this program. A young man named Charles Ramsey became a Chicago Police cadet at age 18, before becoming a police officer in 1971.
The most effective models in Philadelphia are those that partner well-trained police with mental health, drug and alcohol and homeless outreach workers and civilians, like our CSRs, blending a focus on safety with well-crafted alternatives to incarceration.
Boston has a similar program, aimed at young adults ages 18 to 25 who must have a high school diploma or GED. Boston gives their cadets temporary assignments in their districts and headquarters. Cadets take part in community policing and interact with citizens and visitors to Boston. They aim to develop and refine important qualities, including maturity, responsibility, teamwork, and leadership. Their starting salary is around $29,000 plus benefits.
Both of these programs, as well as our CSR program, work in partnership with the police. They emphasize community policing and community partnerships—serving, supporting and assisting the neighborhoods and businesses in their cities. They are training models for police as guardians, not warriors—an essential redefinition of public safety we need to commit to in Philadelphia.
So we need to rethink policing and expand the recruitment of new candidates to public safety careers. There are many things that can and should be done by unarmed, well-trained professionals. But the most effective models in Philadelphia are those that partner well-trained police with mental health, drug and alcohol and homeless outreach workers and civilians, like our CSRs, blending a focus on safety with well-crafted alternatives to incarceration. This is essential for recovery and economic prosperity.
Paul Levy is the president and CEO of the Center City District.
The Citizen welcomes guest commentary from community members who stipulate to the best of their ability that it is fact-based and non-defamatory.