In his bid for a second term as mayor of Philadelphia, John Street willingly and diplomatically discusses the issues that plague the city, such as the development of new jobs, the wage tax, labor problems at the Convention Center, new jobs in the city and the development of Penns Landing.
Questions about his Operation Safe Streets Program, however, seem to hit a nerve.
After Sam Katz’s allegation that the Safe Streets Program is an ineffective drain on the city’s budget, during a press interview with NBC’s Terry Ruggles, the mayor emphatically answered that “$1 million is a small price to pay to make people safe. We are the only city with a tax reduction program.”
Ruggles then reminded the Mayor that Republican mayoral candidate Sam Katz had statistics to back up his claim that the homicide rate actually had increased from 2001 to 2002.
Street said “statistics can be deceiving and our Police Commissioner has done a wonderful job.”
Then Street went on the offensive, asking “Where was Sam Katz in the three and a half years I have been mayor? If he doesn’t like our plan, he should come up with his own plan.”
A call to Katz’s campaign office seeking a response to the mayor’s challenge was quickly returned by a press representative.
She said that Katz does have his own plan to address the significant 25 percent increase in the city’s homicide rate.
When told that Street contends the statistics are misleading because the homicide rate is still an improvement over the significantly higher rate of the early 90s, she said, “That is little consolation to the families of the homicide victims.”
She explained that Katz’s plan is a more comprehensive approach to the rising homicide rate that would enlist all the elements of the public safety system including the police, prison officials, the district attorney and the courts.
Part of Katz’s plan, she said, is to appoint a deputy mayor for public safety.
When asked if the issue is the monetary expense for the Safe Streets program, she said, “No, the issue is that it is not working. If it was working, somehow we would find the money.”
Paul, a 17-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department who has spent most of his career working in the Narcotics Unit, says the police like the Safe Streets Program for one reason: the overtime money that the twelve-hour shifts provide.
In actuality, he said “we are nothing but babysitters for the corners.
We are only visible until midnight when the shift is over, and between midnight and 8 a.m., the drug dealers are out in force.”
He knows this from experience because he and his partner have conducted random checks between those hours and have seen the situation firsthand.
“In a nutshell,” Paul said, “it is a waste of manpower and it’s draining the police budget. You might say it is like putting a small Band-Aid on a big wound.”
Mayor Street and Sam Katz obviously have different perspectives on the severity of the wound and the size of the Band-Aid it will take to contain the homicide rate and make Philadelphia’s streets safer.
Geraldine Treacy can be reached at email@example.com.