Pubdate: Fri, 07 Jun 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Acel Moore
Note: Acel Moores column is entitled Urban Perspectives


Operation Safe Streets, the city's crackdown on street drug sales that 
began last month, is being praised by the most important people - the 
residents who live in the targeted neighborhoods.

The reaction of Elizabeth Bacone, a longtime activist in the Strawberry 
Mansion section, is typical.

"It's a new world here. We are no longer abandoned. We feel safe now for 
the first time in years," said Bacone. "Since the police began patrolling 
our neighborhoods three weeks ago, we have not heard any gunshots."

Her neighborhood, near 30th and Huntingdon Streets, has long had open 
street-corner sales that brought murder and other drug-related violent crimes.

Now, Bacone says, police constantly walk the streets and talk to residents.

"The streets are cleaner because people feel comfortable and it is safe to 
clean the sidewalks and gutters in front of their home," she said.

Bacone says the Streets Department also is more actively cleaning the 
streets, which encourages young people to use trash receptacles.

Another difference since Safe Streets began is that residents have resumed 
the town-watch nightly patrols.

Bacone and other community leaders organized a neighborhood watch a few 
years ago, but stopped the patrols because of threats from drug dealers.

On June 22, Strawberry Mansion residents, including Bacone's Community 
Associates of Strawberry Mansion, will throw a party at 31st and Huntingdon 
Streets to thank the local police and Commissioner Sylvester Johnson for 
improving life in their neighborhood.

Mayor Street and Johnson call Safe Streets, which covers more than 200 
corners, a success. They reject speculation that the operation, which is 
costing the city a half-million dollars a week in police overtime, cannot 
be sustained. Johnson argues, in fact, that eventually, the operation will 
save money.

"This effort is a preventive measure, and because of the effort, there will 
be less crime and less overtime for court appearances for police," he said.

Johnson also described a priceless aspect: Operation Safe Streets is 
fostering a different kind of relationship between citizens and police 

Though it is far too early to declare the city free of drug dealers, the 
effort so far is a positive example of community policing, which depends on 
cooperation between police and residents.

Still, there were skeptics on all sides. Some officers were fearful they 
would be going into dangerous areas without community support.

Many residents were afraid of the drug dealers and the police - who often 
didn't respond when called. Dialing 911 was often a last resort.

That may be changing.

The following incident, though not occurring in a Safe Streets 
neighborhood, shows the attitudinal ripple-effect of the operation.

Last week, some adolescent black boys stood in front of a convenience store 
in Mount Airy, near their school.

They were loitering at the store after buying pretzels and candy.

Adults buying coffee and donuts on the way to work had to squeeze by the 
boys blocking the entrance.

Did the situation turn nasty? No, because a police officer got out of his 
car in front of the store.

"All right boys, you guys are going to be late for school. Get moving," 
said the officer in a cajoling manner.

Most of the boys began ambling their way toward school. But one of them 
said, "I don't have to move."

"There is always one in the group," the officer responded, smiling. "You 
come here," and he drove away in the patrol car with the boy.

The next morning, a man who witnessed the incident asked the officer what 
had happened next.

"I drove him to school and took him to the principal's office. The 
principal told his mother.

"I don't think he will be taking his time anymore," the man said. "In fact, 
I have not seen any of them back in front of the store this morning."

That's not just a story. That's a neighborhood feeling, finally, that the 
police are there to make its streets safer.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens