Crime might rely on perception of area

Certain factors can make a neighborhood feel more or less safe to its inhabitants.

Lian ParsonsAfter revealing where I go to school, I’m often warned by family members and friends to be extra careful when going about my daily life.

Temple is covered by 22nd District of the Philadelphia Police Department—the boundaries of the district extend from 10th to 33rd streets and Lehigh Avenue to Poplar Street and Fairmount Park. This area is called North Central Philly and is often associated with high crime rates.

These associations are not necessarily unfounded; when looking at data compiled by the Inquirer based off its crime reports during the last 30 days, North Philadelphia West and East come in ninth and seventh for violent crime rates respectively on the list of 57 neighborhoods and eighth and sixth respectively for property crime rates.

The 22nd District deploys patrols in a variety of ways like bike officers, radio patrols, foot beats and plain clothes officers, the 22nd district’s Lieutenant Dennis Gallagher told me.

But in examining what makes an area feel safe or unsafe, it’s important to look beyond the single factor of police presence.

“Any time you have a crime problem, it’s important to conduct an environmental analysis,” Gallagher said. Lighting, abandoned properties, abandoned vehicles and the presence of video cameras are examined in these analyses.

The “broken windows theory” is a criminological theory that “deteriorating conditions provide a breeding ground for the crimes,” Gallagher explained. A lack of lighting or many vacant areas with no video cameras are more likely to encourage crime or shady behavior. All of these problems are more visible in North Philly, which could contribute to the perception the area is more dangerous than other parts of the city.

The 22nd District has an abandoned vehicles unit and neighborhood services to “facilitate eradication of those problems,” Gallagher said. The city’s department of Licenses and Inspections seal abandoned properties and abandoned vehicles are towed to limit potential crimes.

A few courses I’m taking this semester use the text “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs to study many factors of crime and its relevance to Philadelphia.

Jacobs argues that urban safety relies on factors like foot traffic, mutual trust within a community, “eyes on the street”—strangers and acquaintances looking out for one another—and shared public spaces like parks.

In the community surrounding Temple, many of the pedestrians are students.

“It changes the environment here,” Gallagher said of the presence of students. “I believe it’s improved the neighborhood and the area.”

Unfortunately, there are not many public spaces in North Philadelphia for students and community members alike to mingle together.

While many students may not be involved in getting to know their neighbors, there is a value in doing so that goes beyond the Good Neighbor Initiative. According to Jacobs, fostering a sense of mutual commonwealth is important in maintaining a sense of safety.

“Working with the community has been a big part of reduction in crime,” Gallagher said. “Captain [Robert] Glenn is committed to improving relations with the community. He’s relentless in meeting with North Philadelphia leadership.”

Being aware of crime can also contribute to how safe an area feels.

Temple increased its patrol border in Fall 2014  from 16th to 18th streets as well as extending the eastern boundary to 9th Street, the northern boundary to Susquehanna Avenue and the southern boundary to Jefferson Street. This extension contributed to the increase in crime reports and TU Alerts.

“We’ve made more of an effort to put out more information,” Executive Director of Campus Safety Charlie Leone previously told The Temple News. “The good side is it gives people the information we want them to have, but on the other side, it makes people very fearful, thinking that crime is going out of control. … In reality, we’re just making you more aware of what’s happening.”

The 22nd District also has a community relations officer who publishes tweets to inform people of when crimes occur in the neighborhood.

Statistically, certain crimes in North Philadelphia have actually decreased during the past year.

There have been a decrease in robberies, burglaries and theft from autos, Gallagher said.

The Temple News previously reported that robberies on Main Campus have decreased 12 percent since last academic year. Reported sexual assaults decreased 60 percent in the new patrol zone and bike thefts decreased 43 percent in 2014.

As crime rates hopefully continue to decline in North Philadelphia, it’s important to take into account the things that make an area feel safer. Get to know your neighbors, report abandoned buildings and vehicles and take notice of streets with sparse lighting or video cameras. They might make a real difference.

Lian Parsons can be reached at

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